Stuart Forster tours Acadian Maple Products near Peggy’s Cove to find out about maple syrup production in Nova Scotia, Canada.
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Is there anything more Canadian than maple syrup? Rumour has it that members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, lumberjacks and ice hockey players start their day with lashings of the dark amber syrup on their sugar-dusted pancakes.
I love a dash of the stuff to sweeten and flavour my morning porridge, so seize an opportunity to discover how the syrup gets from the tree to the table at the visitor centre of Acadian Maple Products near Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia.
Brian Allaway, the company’s President and VP of Sales, welcomes me, explaining how he started tapping maple syrup as a hobby. The sap of maple trees is tapped, collected then heated so it reduces to just 1/40th of its original liquidity. Glancing at the wall I examine an old photo, showing an orange tarpaulin over a simple shack. I guess it must be where things began for the Allaways’ family business.
Acadian Maple Products’ origins
“We started as a hobby 33 years ago. I learnt how to do this as a child and I took my kids out into the backyard back in 1982 and showed them how to make maple syrup. We made a little too much, so I was able to sell some down at the gift shop at Peggy’s Cove. A couple of weeks later he was looking for more, so I had to buy some from a producer and fill up all the little jars!” says Brian with a smile.
“The next year we tapped more trees and the next year more trees. Finally, we built up our own sugar camp in 1995,” adds the former school principal.
“Back in 2003 my wife and I were retiring from another occupation and our son was graduating from university. He was wondering what to do with his life and said ‘I’d like to turn out hobby business into a real business,’” so, consequently, things became formalised. The building we are in dates from 2009 and provides work for 20 people.
Factory, visitor centre and shop
The front section of Acadian Maple Products houses a shop selling, you guessed it, maple syrup products plus the visitor centre, which has a window into the factory. Brian invites me to pull on a hairnet and a white jacket and join him on a tour of the premises.
The site is close to the port, so good for exporting products, and near enough to Peggy’s Cove to draw passing tourists into the shop.
Hygiene and quality control standards are high. Beyond five stacked 1,000 litre tubs of maple syrup, Brian opens a chest freezer and pulls out a plastic bag jangling with vials.
“For every bit of maple syrup that comes into our plant, we have a retention sample with a unique identifier number. This has to be kept frozen for two years. That’s for traceability purposes. So if there was ever any problem, we’d get a phone call emergency saying there’s people getting sick or whatever, we could go back to the individual containers of maple syrup that come in and send these off to a lab. They would identify which container and which producer the problem originated with. There’s never been a problem but we have to be ready,” explains Brian earnestly.
The company focuses its business on Europe, including the United Kingdom, and has recently begun exporting products to China. Brian explains it would take just ten minutes to trace to where batches have been shipped if there was ever a problem.
An analogue logistical system
Brian catches me looking at colourful stickers on the factory wall and explains the company uses the Just-in-Time manufacturing process pioneered by Toyota. In our digital age the analogue system clearly still works well here at Acadian Maple Products.
The factory remains open 50 weeks a year, the exception being around the Christmas and New Year period.
“We try to keep the plant running five days a week. A fishing boat doesn’t make any money when it’s tied up at the wharf,” says Brian, using a business metaphor very apt in Atlantic Canada.
Nova Scotian maple syrup products
The factory also packages maple-based products for small companies in the region. Maple butter, maple flavoured peanuts and maple popcorn are among the items bottled, bagged and wrapped on the production line in addition to pure maple syrup.
Machinery throbs and whirs. Every now and then a buzz pierces the rhythmic noise of the plant. I pause to photograph the team of women at work packaging maple sugar.
Brian leads us to the first floor of the factory where maple coffee is being roasted. The scent of brown coffee beans turning slowly in the roaster is delicious. An employee jokes his work is half-science, half-art based on time and heat.
Four grades of maple syrup
As we head back downstairs I learn how the flavour of maple syrup intensifies through the four gradations of colour, from golden through amber to dark then very dark.
In the shop, I stock up on supplies for my porridge over the weeks and months ahead. Unfortunately, I can’t fit any of the two-litre jars used in the catering industry into my luggage.
I also grab a bag of maple popcorn to munch on during the 45-kilometre (28-mile) drive between Peggy’s Cove and Halifax.
National Maple Syrup Day
Did you know that the 17th of December is Canadian Maple Syrup Day?
Map of Acadian Maple Products
The map below shows the location of Acadian Maple Products premises:
Acadian Maple Products is located at 13578 Peggy’s Cove Road in Upper Tantallon, Nova Scotia, Canada.
See the Nova Scotia and Destination Canada websites for more information about tourism attractions within the province and the country as a whole.
Thanks for reading this post about maple syrup production in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Acadian Maple Products store can be visited while driving Nova Scotia’s Lighthouse Route.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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A version of this post was initially published on Go Eat Do on 20 December 2015.