Meet the maker: the Canadian maple tree tapper

In rural Quebec, Pierre Faucher has been tapping maple sap and turning it into syrup for almost 40 years.

Monday, December 23, 2019,
By Amie Watson
Photographs By Ariel Tarr
Pierre Faucher standing in front of Sucrerie de la Montagne, which opened in 1978.
Pierre Faucher standing in front of Sucrerie de la Montagne, which opened in 1978.
Photograph by Ariel Tarr

In 1972, when Pierre Faucher returned to Quebec after backpacking around the world, he figured he’d stay put for a while. And the place he settled? A maple farm on a dirt road between Montreal and Ottawa. A family had been tapping maple trees here for over 200 years, and Pierre decided to spend a season making syrup with them. “I really liked the energy in that forest,” says the 73-year-old. 

Six years later, Pierre was able to buy the plot of land. After carrying out some renovations, he decided to keep the original wood-fired evaporator that was used to boil the watery sap into sticky syrup. 

Initially, Pierre opened his ‘sugar shack’, Sucrerie de la Montagne, to the public only during the ‘sugaring off’ period (March-April), when people in Quebec traditionally head to maple farms for meals of maple-drenched bacon and eggs, slow-cooked beans, fried pigs’ ears, tourtières (meat pies) and sugar pie. These days, he’s open year-round, with tire d’érable — hot syrup poured on snow and rolled into a lollipop — always available. 

Many maple farms use modern technology to increase yield, but Pierre prefers the traditional method. This involves hand-tapping 3,500 shallow holes into trees and attaching spigots connected to buckets. “The freezing nights and thawing days make the sap come up the tree and drip into the bucket,” he explains. 

It takes about five hours and 40 litres of sap to make a litre of syrup. The sap goes into a wood-fired evaporator, where it’s heated to 40C — just a few degrees cooler and it’ll sour, Pierre explains. Early-season sap yields lighter syrup; later on, it becomes darker and more caramelised. “We just boil and boil, then we filter, and it’s ready,” says Pierre, whose love for the sweet stuff has never waned. He even adds it to his coffee. “Maple syrup is an amazing tradition, and living in the forest is beautiful, year-round. It’s paradise.” Buy Pierre’s maple syrup at Sucrerie de la Montagne and at sucreriedelamontagne.com

Where to buy it
 

Pure Maple: Sourced from trees hand-tapped by a cooperative of maple producers in Quebec. From £9 for 330g.
Buckwud: An amber-coloured, organic, Canadian maple syrup, sold at Tesco and Waitrose, as well as in speciality shops. From £5 for 250g.
Unbranded cans: Much of Quebec’s maple syrup is sold in unbranded aluminium cans, available online. £6.23 for 54ml. maplesyrupworld.com

Read more stories from our Meet the Maker series

Printed in the Jan/Feb issue of National Geographic Traveller Food 

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