One of the biggest annual attractions in southern Vermont isn't really an attraction at all -- it's a season. Sugaring season begins in late winter each year as the ice begins to thaw and maple trees start to wake up from winter. Vermont sugar houses are at their peak activity during this time, and many are also willing to show visitors and guests how their delicious maple syrup is created.
What to Expect at a Vermont Sugar House
Vermont is the world's leading producer of maple syrup - more than 1 million gallons of the sticky-sweet syrup are produced in the state every year, accounting for more than 40 percent of the maple syrup made worldwide. This makes Vermont's maple syrup farms very busy places during the spring. Many sugar farmers work around the clock to produce as much maple syrup as possible during the short season.
Maple-syrup-making starts in the "sugar bush" - a grove of maple trees that farmers use to supply maple sap, the raw ingredient in maple syrup. During the winter months the sugar farmers tap trees with a small spout, called a spile. When the weather warms up the frozen sap in the tree begins to flow again, and the spile channels it from inside the tree into a bucket or a long hose, from which the sap is collected in tanks.
From there, the sap is boiled down to get rid of excess water and concentrate the sugar and other compounds. It takes approximately 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, which makes the process take quite a while. Fortunately, when you visit a Vermont sugar house, you'll only have to sit back and watch. Many Vermont maple syrup farms also give visitors free samples and offer bottles and other syrup products (like maple candies and gifts), making this a very tasty adventure.
Where to Visit a Vermont Sugar House
Vermont has far too many sugar houses to list here -- the following are dependable favorites, open year-round.
Robb Family Farm
: This popular sugar house in Brattleboro has been around for generations and produces high-quality maple syrup and other maple products.
Hidden Springs Maple
: A family-owned maple syrup farm in southern Vermont, Hidden Springs operates a popular farm store that sells maple syrup products from around the region.
Dutton Berry Farm
: Along with a number of fruits and veggies, the Dutton Berry Farm operates a traditional Vermont sugar house that produces more than 1,000 gallons of maple syrup each year.
Vermont Maple Open House Weekend
: Along with the sugar houses that are open all year, many Vermont sugarmakers open their doors to the public for one weekend a year - the Vermont Maple Open House Weekend. This is a great opportunity for visitors to learn about maple syrup production and see how the process works first hand, and to also get their fill of fresh-made maple syrup straight from the source.
The Open House Weekend is only once a year, and it can be tough to get to all the different sugar houses you want to visit before time runs out. One way to make your trip easier is to stay in a comfortable and centrally located southern Vermont rental house
. The only way you could be closer to the maple syrup would be to camp out in the sugar bush itself.