David Nehring is no longer surprised when he’s asked how much sugar is added to the maple syrup produced at Valley View Farm. It is assumed, he explains, that the syrup could not be that sweet on its own.
“I used to take it for granted that people knew how maple syrup was made,” said Nehring. “Even though it’s such a New England thing, a lot of people have no idea of all of the work that goes into sugaring from start to finish.”
To give residents of Massachusetts — and beyond — a literal taste of local maple syrup and the sugaring process, the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association is celebrating Massachusetts Maple Month in March.
The highlight of the month-long recognition of the thriving Massachusetts maple industry is Maple Weekend on March 18 and 19.
The goal of the fourth annual weekend event is to connect consumers with local producers, educating them about maple syrup production and encouraging them to eat — and buy — real Massachusetts maple products.
About 70 of the 300 producers throughout the commonwealth are hosting special events and activities ranging from boiling demonstrations, sugar bush tours and tastings to elaborate meals that include pancakes, French toast, sausages and bacon — all made to be slathered in real Massachusetts maple syrup.
Restaurants are also highlighting local syrup on their menus. Hartmann’s Herb Farm B&B in Cambridge is hosting a pancake brunch on Sunday; in Northampton, Herrell’s Ice Cream is featuring several ice cream flavors made with maple syrup, including maple walnut, maple cream and maple oatmeal cookie.
Visitors to Valley View Farm can watch boiling demonstrations, sample (and purchase) different maple products and, weather permitting, enjoy a bonfire. Nehring hopes the event will attract hundreds of visitors to the Haydenville sugar shack to learn more about sugaring.
“You go to the grocery store and there is syrup from all over,” he said. “This is our way of promoting local, Massachusetts syrup.”
In Buckland, Ben Murray of Red Gate Farm is participating in Maple Weekend for the first time.
“Our philosophy is the more people know about farming, the better,” he said.
Murray started sugaring in 2003. He taps about 250 trees and produces up to 50 gallons of syrup per season. Although the farm is smaller than some of the others hosting Maple Weekend events, Murray believes, “The process is still fascinating.”
Red Gate Farm will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Maple Weekend. In addition to tapping and boiling demonstrations and tours of the sugar bush, the farm will also offer blind tastings of Massachusetts maple syrup and imported syrup cut with high fructose corn syrup.
“It’s all about giving people firsthand experience. We believe that once you taste real Massachusetts maple syrup, you’ll never eat anything else,” he said.
Bringing people to the farm also builds relationships with consumers and fosters and understanding of what it takes to produce sticky, sweet maple syrup.
“The more you know about how [maple syrup] gets from tree to table, the more appreciation you’ll have for producers,” Murray said.
To truly appreciate the diversity of sugaring operations, Nehring suggests visiting multiple Massachusetts sugar shacks during Maple Weekend.
“Maple syrup is like wine,” he explained. “Each producer has their own trees that have their own flavor.”