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Award winners say world's best maple syrup comes from St. Joseph.

Award winners say world's best maple syrup comes from St. Joseph

A father-and-son maple syrup making partnership has produced two world championships for a St. Joseph Island family.

Doug Thompson and his father Ken of Thompson Maple Products picked up the top honors at Toronto's Royal Winter Fair for extra-light and medium graded syrup.

"We are the only producer in Ontario to win two world championships," says Doug.

Because of the recognition, they have no difficulty selling their product. Although the island produces 8,000 to 9,000 gallons of syrup annually, the market is to the south. The Thompsons look after their own distribution.

Light syrup is preferred by candy makers. Thompson attributes the lighter color and smooth texture of their syrup to the soil base of the island.

"We're on white gravel here," he explained. "It seems to make lighter colored syrup. People on the other side of the island are on loam and theirs is darker syrup."

Darker syrup is still good syrup, he is quick to add. It just has different properties.

This year Thompson, who has been in the business 15 years, has made the business his major source of income. Previously, he worked as an aircraft mechanic, but he found he was just too busy.

He expects the addition of maple candy and maple butter to his company's product line will add to the profits.

By tapping 5,500 of their own trees and buying syrup produced by a neighbor's 3,300 trees, he expects to produce about 1,300 gallons of syrup. The ideal, he said, would be 2,000 gallons.

Thompson buys the sap from the neighbor at a price based on the sugar content in the sap. He measures the sweetness with a hydrometer.

Sugar content is affected by the size of the trees and the number of leaves. A gallon of sap at two-per-cent brix might net 20 cents, while three-per-cent brix might be worth 35 cents.

The quality of the sap can be affected by drought or bugs which consume the leaves, noted Thompson.

Maple syrup retails at about $41 for four litres.

COMBINED TALENTS

Originally from Sault Ste. Marie, Thompson has lived on his current property for eight years. Formerly he helped someone else with syrup production.

The combined talents of the two Thompson men have meant considerable savings when updating their equipment. They originally started with a wood-fired evaporator and finishing tanks, but they found they couldn't keep up with the sap supply, so they switched to steam.

"We were the first ones in Canada to do it all steam," Thompson noted.

Here is where their combined experience paid off. The two men used stainless steel sheeting to make their own equipment, including the large evaporator and pre-heating system, the storage tank where semi-evaporated sap is stored, the finishing tank where it is boiled down and the storage tank where it is filtered before canning.

The system is driven by an enormous ship's boiler. Ken has the expertise in this area.

The boiler is completely automated and burns 50 gallons of furnace oil per hour. Thompson estimates it takes about three gallons of oil to make a gallon of syrup.

Sap for the evaporation process is stored in two tanks which have a combined capacity of 9,600 gallons. On a good day the business can produce 100 gallons of syrup, but sap does not run consistently during the six-week season which starts in early March.

"You might only boil 12 days of that six weeks. You might boil 25 days. It depends on Mother Nature," he said.

Northern Ontario has ideal weather conditions for syrup making, said Thompson, "except when you are putting the pipeline in the snow."

They have started putting it out in the fall and simply restretch and pull lines up where necessary.

Although the business is mechanized, experience plays a big role in successful syrup making.

For example, the producer needs to determine when the syrup starts tasting "buddy" near the end of the season. There is still a market for this syrup - for flavoring - but there's not much money in it, said Thompson, adding, "It will keep you going if you have a bad year."

The major competition comes from Quebec, which accounts for 75 per cent of the world's production of maple syrup. There are other major production areas in Ontario as well, including the Peterborough, London and Ottawa areas.

In Lanark Township, near Ottawa, "they say they're the capital of syrup making in Ontario," said Thompson with a grin. "But we disagree."

PHOTO : Doug Thompson of St. Joseph Island's Thompson Maple Products filters some of the company's

PHOTO : product.

MARJIE SMITH Correspondent
COPYRIGHT 1990 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Thompson Maple Products of St. Joseph Island
Author:Smith, Marjie
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jun 1, 1990
Words:783
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