Maple Syrup - ON vs. QC
Just bought my first maple syrup in Ontario (been here 7 years, but somehow I always pick this up in QC)
Ran out of maple syrup this morning mid-breakfast (gasp!)
Went to Fiesta and bought a bottle of North Harmony medium. (They only seemed to carry organic syrup)
I usually buy it in a can from a maple stand somewhere in Montreal. (also medium)
The ON version seemed to be a more 'golden' colour vs. browner from QC; the ON version seemed sweeter (?) or something different.
On the french toast, the syrup seemed to lack flavour.
Am I crazy or is there actually a difference? (Or both?)
Maple syrup is an artisan product. Even for the same producer, two batches made a week apart will have a different flavour, depending on all sorts of mysterious, unknowable factors - environmental, biological and human. The colour is pretty much standardized - so if it's labelled medium or light or amber it should fall within a certain range, but I suppose it's not impossible for there to be a different standard in Quebec than in Ontario. You might want to go to the St. Lawrence Market and sample the products from different maple producers to see which you like best. Or, better yet, hit some of the maple syrup festivals that will be coming up in March and April around the province. Many of these are within a two-hour drive of Toronto.
Your comparison of colour was telling. "Browner" = brown sugar with more taste I would think.
Perhaps your QC syrup may have been helped with brown sugar. This is common amongst roadside stands - more prevalent than one would expect and I've encountered it often.
"Golden" and "lacking in flavour" are how I would describe a #1 maple syrup - not "lacking" in flavour but having a very subtle and stronger maple taste.
I prefer a #2 myself with it's more pronounced taste and slightly darker hue.
Buy a litre of Quebec Medium at Costco. It's $15 and should serve as a benchmark. If you spend more elsewhere, there should be added value, such as maple smoke from wood fired pan boiling, an old and abandoned process. Most maple syrup in Ontario and Quebec will be gas fired. There are still a few using wood fired, but not many, and quite a few pretenders.
i was thinking costco too. really it comes down to personal preference. i prefer a lighter syrup when it come to pancakes, but a darker syrup for baking/cooking. the lighter syrup is hard to come by. it is often produced early on when the sugar content of the sap is higher, requiring less cooking. sometimes this is refereed to as the 'robin run'. costco syrup from quebec as is now i believe, as it has been stated 'medium', though i do believe it was at first 'light' when it hit the selves a few years ago, which made for a great deal. maple syrup purchase at costco is from a mass producer, they do have a website (on the bottle). like coffee beans, maple syrup is a commodity, so when the production is plentiful the price falls. there is marketing board that controls the market price and i do believe even a system of stock piling. that said, my favorite place to buy syrup is at the elmvale maple syrup festival in the spring, just north of barrie. it is a drive, but there you are dealing with the producer and can taste the products, perhaps similar to the st. lawrence market. for the past 12 years i have been a part of making maple syrup at an outdoor education centre and have gain some insight on this great canadian tradition. while we only produce a small amonut sometimes we are given a litre to enjoy at home.
My father-in-law has been making 'artisanal' maple syrup for over 60 years - he still cuts down the trees that are used for the wood to heat the pan. Commenting on the quality is obviously superfluous.
Although he was born in Ontario (and bred from 17C in Canada) he didn't speak any English until he met his wife-to-be, so he certainly embodies the French-Canadian heritage.
Obviously taste is 'personal' but he has always maintained that there is a difference between Quebec and Ontario maple syrup "that he can spot immediately" - colour/grade has nothing to do with it. The 'best'(?) explanation I can get from him is that Ontario uses 'Hard Maple' and Quebec (and Vermont) 'Soft Maple'. He further claims that the Ontario version is indeed sweeter - in general, as there are noticeable vintage variations.
Of course, the mythology and fact are hard to separate by a 'newcomer' such as I - I just enjoy the fruits of his labour. He starts to tap when it 'feels right' - he started in January about 3 years ago (and got 2 'crops' that season). For current consumption, I find the 2008 better than the 2009.
This maple-syrup-making father-in-law makes marriage seem intriguing. Alls I have to do is troll around some sugar shacks :)
An interesting take - in other words the difference may not be due to brown sugar.
I will ask someone to pick up maple syrup at Costco for me - great value.
There's a post about maple syrup in the "General Chowhound Topics" board - one of the posters points out that the lighter syrup comes from the earliest sap, and as the weather warms, the sap turns darker, thus leading to darker syrups. Since the weather is beyond the producer's control, some years you might get a lot of very light sap, and other years, you might get a lot of darker sap.
I have to say, I prefer the Grade "B" (US) darker syrup - I find the maple flavour much more pronounced than in the Grade "A".
That is true. We have some good friends who have a sugar bush and the season can be extremely variable. Some years tons of syrup - other years very little. It totally depends on weather. When spring comes gently and the warming is gradual (cold nights, above-freezing days) it's generally good news for syrup producers. A sudden warming - with the maple trees budding will bring the production to a screeching halt. This is one food substance that just can't be controlled by humans - which is a good thing, I think.