Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Maple Syrup Production at the CIA

By student blogger Morgan

Maple syrup season closed up shop here in the Hudson Valley a few weeks ago and this year we were particularly sad to see it go. As an educational side project, Chocolate and Confections Chef Peter Greweling captained a small team of students to tap 15 maple trees on campus. He started a micro maple syrup factory in his bakeshop and turned the sap gathered into our very own CIA variety maple syrup.

The trees were located behind the lodges and townhouses on campus and we tapped them back when there was still snow on the ground. The ideal conditions for collecting sap are when the nights are below freezing but the days are above. The very first day we collected sap we got almost 70 gallons from 15 trees, but towards the end of the season the amount of sap the trees produced slowly tapered off.

At the beginning of the season the sap was crystal clear right out of the tree and had a relatively low sugar content. As the days got warmer and the trees produced less syrup, it turned a darker color and had a thicker consistency with a higher sugar content, resulting in a startlingly different color and flavor in the final syrup.

During class, we slowly reduced the sap in large steam kettles, which created something of a maple syrup sauna (we didn't hate it...). During the boiling stage Chef measured the sugar content of the sap using a refractometer to determine when enough of the water had been removed to qualify it as syrup. It takes roughly 45 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

The results were divine and such a departure from any "maple syrup" I had previously experienced. At the end of the season we ended up with three different varieties harvested from the same trees but at different times. Each of the syrups below were boiled down to the same exact sugar content but have different consistencies, colors and flavors. 

From left to right these are samples of the syrup rendered from the syrup harvest latest in the season to earliest in the season.

Chef Greweling would eventually love to create a class of its own right dedicated to the history and production of maple syrup. Next year he hopes to include even more trees on campus and indenture (...I mean enlist...) even more students to collect and boil the sap. The plan is to make enough syrup to hopefully sell it in Apple Pie Bakery and Cafe so that you can take home your very own jar of maple syrup with the CIA terroir.

Having the opportunity to help out with this special project was one of the high lights of my semester and absolutely a rare experience for this Virginia girl. Actually producing an ingredient that we use everyday  from tree to jug gives you a new appreciation and understanding that is hard to accomplish by anything less. I hope the project continues and grows year after year! 

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