Meadville Tribune

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March 17, 2013

Sweet weekend for the Maple Taste and Tour

EAST MEAD TOWNSHIP — A little snow didn’t deter Sarah Hart and her family from venturing out and about in northwestern Pennsylvania on Saturday for the 10th annual Maple Taste and Tour.

“We like to experience new things,” said Sarah, who was trekking around the region with her son Zachary, 12, and her mom, Marti Walk, of Erie, to see how maple syrup is produced.

“This is our third stop,” Walk said with a smile after sampling a small cup of pure maple syrup. “Each place we learn a little bit more.”

They were among hundreds of visitors who fanned out across Crawford, Erie, Warren and Venango counties to see how the sweet syrup is made and fashioned into different products.

The family was impressed particularly with the operations of Frost Ridge Maple Farm in East Mead Township, east of Guys Mills.

Farm owners Pat and Michele Mihailov and their children have been producing maple syrup for 30 years with more than 4,000 taps into maple trees to draw out the sap.

Frost Ridge is one of the largest producers in the area — processing about 2,000 gallons of maple syrup in a season, according to Pat. To make that much syrup takes about 120,000 gallons of sap that has to be boiled down, he said.

“It’s quite an operation — seeing everything from tapping of trees at one place to how it’s gather to how it’s processed using reverse osmosis these days,” Hart said. “It’s not like the old days when it was produced in a kettle.”

Frost Ridge’s operation is large enough that it uses a truck with a 5,000-gallon steel tank to haul sap to the sugar house for processing, Mihailov said.

The sap is pumped to the sugarhouse into separate holding tanks. The sap remains there until it runs through a filter and a reverse osmosis machine.

There’s a vacuum system at the sugarhouse where the sap has passed through to the storage tanks.

Maple sap is reminiscent of water with the exception of its slightly sweet taste. It takes about 55 to 60 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.

A reverse osmosis machine separates water from water-soluble solids in the syrup, taking about 50 percent of the water out and cutting the boiling process in half, he said.

From the reverse osmosis machines the sap concentrate goes into the boiler for processing.

Once the sap is boiled to the right temperature — around 220 degrees Fahrenheit — to become syrup, it gets packaged into large drums for storage. The syrup then is bottled and sold all across the country, Mihailov said.

Between the reverse osmosis process and the boiling, the sap goes from about 2 or 3 percent sugar to 66 percent sugar in the final syrup.

The Mihailovs said they were happy to be among the 15 producers in the region opening up their doors this weekend to educate the public.

“We’ve had more than 100 people stop by already today,” Michele said during an early-afternoon lull in the crowd. “We’ve had people from Lancaster and below Butler call us to make sure we were open.”

The 10th annual Maple Taste and Tour continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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