The Sugaring season is in full swing in Western Massachusetts. Local sugar farmers are practically working around the clock, producing one of the best local commodities. Chuck Andrews, owner of Cobble Mountain Sugar House, runs about 700 taps in Blandford, MA, on four sugar bushes. Each tree takes a couple of taps, the largest tree taking four taps.
Cobble Mountain Sugar House sells syrup for $50 a gallon, which is about $10 less than the average price of locally produced syrup. Unlike some agricultural industries, the government doesn’t set or regulate pricing of maple syrup, allowing farmers to set their own prices. Though, “we’re definitely not getting rich off of it,” Andrews says. His immediate family consumes a couple of gallons a year, and his friends and extended family enjoy receiving maple syrup gifts around the holidays.
Maple syrup competition is abundant in Western Massachusetts, however, Andrews knows nothing of it. A true labor of love, all of the Blandford area sugar farmers are friendly, often hanging out in each other’s sugar houses. They farm their neighbors land, and sell locally. The Bread Basket, in Russell, MA, sells Cobble Mountain Sugar House products.
“People like the local, people just like the small operations and the fact that the way we make it is pretty much old school.”
“Old-school” maple syrup was controlled by dipping pork-fat into the sap, to prevent it from boiling over. “We don’t do that anymore. That is the old-school, you dipped it in to keep it from boiling over, but we don’t do that because of allergies.” Andrews says there is a new product for this purpose, a de-foaming product, “we use almost none of it. It’s a natural product that we buy from the Bascom Sugar House.” They keep the product on hand, because, “if it boils over in the pan it could start a fire pretty quick.”
A fire would certainly put a damper on what has been a good start to the sugaring season. According to Andrews,
“This year seems to be panning out really well. If the weather stays cold at night, warm during the day—like it has been most of the time—it should turn out to be a really good season.”
When buying syrup, remember that the higher grade is not necessarily the better. Andrews, personally speaking, prefers a medium amber. “Some people like the light, but I think the darker syrups have much better flavor.”
Should you be so inclined to celebrate this season of local syrup bounty, here is a recipe for Butternut Squash Ravioli with Spinach and Toasted Cashews to accentuate the delicious, signature Western Massachusetts product.