Earlier this month I had the pleasure of a trip to Canada to experience the delights of Canadian Maple syrup. The purpose of the trip, organised by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ) was to attend the launch of the 2017 Maple Festival and be part of the celebrations and education around the start of the sugaring season.
The added incentive was the opportunity to experience the culinary skills of Nathan Eades, head chef of Michelin-starred restaurant, Simpsons in Birmingham. Under the tutorage of chef owner, Andreas Antona and chef director Luke Tipping, the larger than life chef is making his mark on the city’s vibrant food scene and was the guest chef representing the UK at the launch dinner.
His brief was to produce a comforting traditional High Tea, with Maple as the unique ingredient, including:
- Maple-Smoked Organic Wild Salmon, Cucumber, and Herring Caviar in a Horseradish-Maple Emulsion – a modern take on two classic British High Tea ingredients: salmon and cucumber
- Soup and a Sandwich… with a hint of Maple
- Coronation Chicken served on a crispy rye cracker, dressed with curry cream and mushroom ketchup, served alongside a chicken broth with julienned mushrooms marinated in maple vinegar.
- Sunday Roast with Flavours of Maple – a loin of Boileau Red Deer with the aromas of maple, accompanied by game-stuffed cabbage, layered celery root, and maple cranberry chutney
Mylène Denicolaï, acting director of promotion, innovation and market development, FPAQ explained how the concept had been designed to underline the incredible growth of maple in the UK market.
Eades, who had previously worked in Toronto, took to the stage at the end of the meal, and said (mostly in French): “I discovered maple when I first came to work in this country and the taste and versatility of it were instantly appealing. Maple is gaining popularity in the UK and people are discovering that maple is a lot more than just syrup on their pancakes. So I’m really proud to have put together a menu that’s based in British food tradition with a maple twist.”
Maple Master Yves Lévesque, head pastry chef and owner of Dansereau Traiteur, completed the meal with an apple charlotte with whisky and candied fruit and a Maple butter caramel.
The FPAQ also celebrated its unique associate membership of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts (RACA) – the first foreign product and association to be accepted by the RACA. Yolande Stanley MCA, chairman of pastry for the RACA, and pastry chef trainer for WorldSkills International and London South Bank University, announced three young winners on the trip, acknowledging their skills at the dinner.
Polly Chan, RACA Young Pastry Chef of the Year and bakery chef at Pennyhill Park Hotel, Bagshot (who won her award whilst at Yauatcha); Joel Gueller, RACA Young Chef of the Year and chef de partie, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxford and Alexander MacLeod, RACA Young Waiter of the Year, of the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh.
Maple has also scored another first in the UK; in fact a World first in education. At the end of last year Maple Products from Quebec became the subject of a five-month course at the College of Food at University College Birmingham (UCB) with students creating a range of maple-based recipes. You can find the winning recipe online at www.welovemaple.co.uk
UCB lands inaugural affiliation with Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers
David Colcombe, chef consultant and honorary fellow and visiting professor of Culinary Arts at UCB supported Eades on his maple journey and joined the brigade in the pop-up kitchen in the basement of the St James Theatre, Montreal. As an Ambassador for FPAQ in the UK, Colcombe has extensive knowledge of the natural sugar ingredient.
Maple syrup is extracted from the sap of maple trees and is graded in four colours, each colour with its own distinct flavour. The first grade is Golden, extra light in colour, with a delicate taste; Amber, light to medium in colour, with a rich taste; Dark, medium to dark in colour with a robust taste and Very Dark, with a strong taste.
Quebec’s maple syrup producers have a rigorous grading and quality independent inspection process for their maple syrup production with over 250,000 barrels inspected every year. The inspectors look for:
• Brix degrees – the sugar concentration of the maple syrup
• Authenticity – that it is 100% pure maple syrup
• Clarity – the absence of any suspended particles
• Colour class – light transmitted through the maple syrup
• Flavour – absence of flaws masking the maple flavour
Citadelle, based in Plessisvlle, Quebec is the world’s largest producer of 100% pure maple syrup and, a cooperative with nearly 2000 members. Their maple syrup contains no preservatives or artificial flavour and is completely unrefined retaining the sap’s inherent vitamins and nutrients, with the sap collected from over seven million maple trees across Canada.
Maple syrup from Canada contains polyphenols, healthy compounds that are also found in berries, tea and flaxseeds which help keep blood sugar levels in check.
Just 60ml of maple syrup contains your daily recommended dose of manganese, which helps keep bones strong and healthy and is necessary for normal brain and nerve function.
Native Americans were the first to recognise maple sap as a source of energy and nutrition. To make maple syrup, they would throw hot stones into a bucket of sap, or let it freeze overnight and remove the layer of ice to reveal the syrup underneath.
Nowadays, maple is pumped from taps in the maple trees directly into pipes into a maple tank. Some maple farmers use condenser machines to accelerate the extraction of water from the sap, and then move this concentrated sap into a 300 gallon boiler that heats it up to 220 degrees Celsius. To be a syrup the sap has to become 66% sugar on the globally used Brix scale.
We discovered various maple syrup products during our tour of Montreal and Quebec City including maple butter, which is not a butter at all but a sweet spread, to try on toast or as a cake frosting; maple Taffy – a thick clear maple caramel, that hardens when served on ice and makes excellent Taffy lollipops, or an ice cream topping.
Ginger organic maple spread and maple and garlic dressing. Maple coffee and maple mustard and an incredible product called Cabane du Pic-Bois which is a sweet and sour maple vinegar which can be used as an alternative to balsamic vinegar or raspberry vinegar and could be used to accompany foie gras, boost sauces, meats, seafood, vegetables or just a salad. I have a bottle safely tucked away in my office drawer!
We finished the tour with two very special visits: a traditional maple lunch at Érablière du Lac Sugar Shack consisting of split pea soup, transformed by a dash of maple syrup, maple glazed ham, beans and bacon (cooked in maple of course), meat pie and sautéed potatoes followed by maple tart. An unforgettable lunch never to be recreated and some time to sledge for those brave enough.
And finally on our last day a trip to FPAQ President Serge Beaulieu’s maple production facilities. A maple, dairy and arable farm, where we saw the maple trees tapped and ready to release their sap for the 2017 sugaring season (which usually starts in mid-February). The perfect temperature for the first of the season maple sap to flow from the trees is -15°C during the night up to +5°C during the day.
As the temperatures rise, the grades and colour of the maple syrups change, and that, is the true secret of maple. It’s a pure natural product, and its range of use depending on its grade is huge. It’s an extremely versatile product.
If you would like to try Canadian maple syrup in the UK you can purchase it via:
I Sens Ca – www.isens.ca/
Pure Maple – www.puremaple.co.uk/
Cotswold-Fayre – www.cotswold-fayre.co.uk/
Sous Chef – www.souschef.co.uk/
Infusion 4 Chefs – www.infusions4chefs.co.uk/