Some of  North America’s best maple syrup comes from Williamsburg

  • Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Maple syrup by Dufresne's Sugar House. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • The Dufresne family uses their syrup in vinaigrettes, chicken dishes, roasted vegetables and desserts. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • January is when Keith Dufresne taps his 7,000 trees in Williamsburg, Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Keith Dufresne prepares to cut down trees at Dufresne's Sugar House in Williamsburg, Jan. 10, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • A year's worth of firewood at Dufresne's Sugar House in Williamsburg, as seen Jan. 10, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • A year's worth of firewood at Dufresne's Sugar House in Williamsburg, as seen Jan. 10, 2019. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Dufresne’s Sugar House uses wood-fired evaporators to make their syrup. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Blue — as opposed to black — sap lines alloThe Dufrew sunlight to filer through and help inhibit the growth of bacteria. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Jacqueline Dufresne starts work at her home office with a mug of hot cocoa sweetened with granulated maple sugar. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

@AndyCCastillo
Published: 1/11/2019 4:29:42 PM

Most New Englanders probably wouldn’t consider 35 degree temperatures with a little bit of sleet and fog to be ideal late-winter weather.

But for Keith and Jacqueline Dufresne of Dufresne’s Sugar House in Williamsburg, those conditions are absolutely perfect for their 7,000-tree maple syrup operation.

“You get those days where your eyes are watering it’s so raw and so miserable. Your hands are freezing. The sap is not running hard, but it’s plunking along, and it’s crystal clear like water. You make the nicest syrup you can imagine,” Keith said. “That’s the day you live for. It’s what makes the whole season.”

Keith talks about maple sugar like a baseball fan might talk about past World Series titles — he recalls one season in 1988 when his 100 plus acres of trees produced particularly sweet maple syrup.

“It’s like wine. Some years, (Jacqueline) will know because when I walk out of the sugar house she’ll say ‘My god, I can smell it from the house.’ That is going to be a vintage year. The aroma is there. The flavor is there. You can smell it. It just lingers in the air. It’s in the steam,” he said.

This last season, 2018, was even better than that vintage year: the Dufresnes’s syrup took home three awards at the international North American Maple Syrup Council’s annual competition, the continent’s premiere sugar maple event. They won awards in every category they entered: maple syrup, maple cream and maple candy.

 Winning one award at the North American Maple Syrup Council’s competition is impressive. Winning three is nearly unheard of, Jacqueline says. “This is really big,” she said. “Keith has always said he makes the best maple syrup.”

For their family — ever since Keith’s great-grandfather bought land and started the farm — making maple syrup is a lifestyle.

“He handles the sap from tree to table. I do all the bookkeeping and the marketing,” said Jacqueline, who ships more than 2,000 gallons of syrup annually to wholesale and individual customers across the United States from their home-office.

At home, they use their maple sugar in myriad ways — in homemade granola bars, vinaigrettes, teriyaki chicken, roasted Brussels sprouts, and pecan pie, to name a few. “We use it on fruit salad, maybe a half of a teaspoon. It softens the flavor,” she continued.

Making delicious maple syrup is as much of an art as it is a science, she says. It doesn’t happen overnight. Sugar making is a job that requires constant attention and difficult labor throughout the year.

Starting in January, Keith begins drilling into trees and installing taps to access the sap. If he has time, he cuts firewood and thins the woods. Forest management is an important aspect of producing quality maple sugar, he says.

But while cutting down trees is important, it’s also incredibly dangerous.

“I’ve been clocked a few times. I have scars to prove it,” he said, removing his hat to reveal a scar on his forehead. Years ago, he was cutting down a tree when “it boomeranged back. I should have turned my back on it. It should have killed me.”

The taps connect to a network of tubes crisscrossing the woods along Route 9 that brings the sap to the sugar house.

“When it runs, you need to deal with it,” Keith Dufresne said. “One of the things that makes your syrup good and high quality, is the faster you boil it the better off you are. We boil at night. It runs during the day and freezes during the night. We gather it in the afternoon and then we start boiling. We don’t save it for the next day.”

Unlike many maple syrup operations, which use propane or oil to boil their sap, the Dufresnes still burn wood. Jacqueline said she thinks that because the wood burns unevenly, their syrup has a unique depth of flavor.

She also credits the location of their trees for the quality of their syrup, using the French word terroir. “It means that our syrup tastes the way it does because of where the trees are, where the water that comes through the trees comes from on this mountain.” The trees stretch uphill on a rocky ledge, she says, and their roots are fed by underground streams.

Other factors are more variable. Sometimes, Keith says, his season only lasts for a few solid weeks.

“Mother nature can stick it to you. We had one year we didn’t start till march 13th boiling, we had another year we were done March 15th,” he said. “It’s all weather related.”

Granola Bars withMaple Syrup

2 cups old-fashioned oats, uncooked

1 cup all purpose flour

1 ½ cup mixed dried fruit or raisins

¾ cup brown sugar

½ cup toasted wheat germ

¾ tsp. cinnamon

¾ tsp. salt

½ cup oil

½ cup maple syrup

2 tsp. vanilla

1 large egg

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13” x 9” metal baking pan. Line with foil and grease foil.

In large bowl, mix oats, flour, fruit, sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, and salt until well combined. Stir in oil, syrup, vanilla, and egg until well blended. Wet hands and pat mixture into pan.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until edges turn pale golden. Cool in pan.

When cool, invert pan onto cutting board. Remove foil. Cut lengthwise into 4” strips. Then cut each strip cross-wise into 6 pieces. Recipe by Linda Miller.

Jacqueline Dufresne’s Maple Teriyaki Chicken

Sauce

¼ cup Canola oil

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup dry sherry

1 teaspoon dried ginger

½ – 1 teaspoon roasted garlic

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 pound or more thinly sliced chicken breast (¼-inch thick or less)

Chopped vegetables of choice

Mix all sauce ingredients in a wok or wok-shaped pan and heat up. Saute chicken pieces until cooked through. Remove with slotted spoon and cook vegetables to desired crispness. Return chicken to pan to re-warm. Serve.




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