In contemplating the present opening prospects in human affairs, I am led to expect that a material part of the general happiness which heaven seems to have prepared for mankind will be derived from the manufacture and general use of Maple Sugar - Letter to Thomas Jefferson from Benjamin Rush, August 19, 1791I have long proclaimed to the world my adoration for that true nectar of the Olympian Gods, that Elixir of Life, known as Grade B Maple Syrup. I was introduced to it on our first of what became an annual family Syrup pilgrimage. That first tour started at Maple Glen Sugar House in Gowanda, a location that is also where I learned not to follow my wife's directions.
Of all the stops on the local maple trail this may be the most complete stop for a beginner. A teaching tour that starts with tapping and ends with tasting. Grade B stood out from a distance. Dark, closer to molasses than amber in color. Then the aroma hits you - rich, full bodied, redolent with everything you associate with maple.
The flavor is difficult to explain. It is sweet, but not cloying. Robust and buttery. Perfection in a bottle.
Speaking of bottles, that first trip we bought a quart of Grade B. That was the last time we bought that little. No we call ahead for a gallon of B from a place that always has it. I'd tell you where, but then I'd have to kill you.
We put in on everything - the usual suspects like pancakes and waffles, and started into oatmeal. Passover wouldn't be the same without Matzoh Brei slathered in a coating of is to Grade B. I've used it to cure hams and bacon. It forms a base for sauces, barbecue and otherwise. It is drizzled on the clean snow to make candy.
And now grade B will be going away – not that it will cease being made but it will undergo a name change. By USDA regulation it will henceforth be known as "Grade A Dark with Robust Taste". Note how trippingly that dances on your tongue. Not. I blame it on the state of Vermont and those Subaru driving Birkenstock wearing hippies.
The alleged reason for the change is an inability to properly market Grade B. There is some merit to this claim. There is the perception that a "B" grade is inferior to an "A". There is also the impression that the lighter in color something is, the purer its quality. Whatever the reason, it was not a sought after commodity. From that first taste I had been told that the bulk of local Grade B production was sold for commercial use - that "natural maple flavor" that shows up in bad food.
Rebranding is always a risk. Hazelnut surely has more cachet than Filbert (even if both "cachet" and "filbert" are French). But has calling Prunes "Dried Plums" really caught on? And, don't get me started on the attempt to call High Fructose Corn Syrup "Corn Sugar".
It just seems to me that the producers missed a bet. There was a certain clandestine reputation to Grade B. An almost illicit, speakeasy feeling among those in the know – kind of like a secret handshake. "Hey, man, if you are going to Wyoming can you score me a half G of the good stuff?" I can conceive of a whole marketing campaign based upon that.
In the end, I'll get used to the change, but I do have one worry. If you look at the chart at right it is not a straight line transition. It looks like the new grade is a blend of the old B and darkest A. I hope I am wrong, but if they are screwing with the flavor I will be very miffed.
Oh, and I lied. My source is Kirsch Maple in Varysburg. Really nice folks. I'll get the scoop from them when we head down in a few weeks.