It may surprise you to hear that on Vancouver Island, and in the Vancouver area, dozens of small farms are making maple syrup. Traditionally, areas of Quebec and Ontario are known for making the famous Canadian maple syrup from sugar maple trees, but in the last decade tapping big leaf maple trees, especially on Vancouver Island, has become a growing agroforestry business, boosted by the “100 mile diet” and niche food production. Many farmers involved in the production of maple syrup are hobbyists, but the business is growing and demand is far outstripping supply at the moment.
Big leaf maples are a different species than the sugar maples in eastern Canada. There are some differences in the sap and how it can be collected. There is a lower sugar content in Big Leaf sap and the syrup that can be made from it varies from golden in color to a dark chocolate tint.
February 5, 2011, the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan will host the 4th annual Big Leaf Maple Syrup Festival. Events run from 10 a.m to 4:30 p.m. Visitors are invited to participate in workshops featuring tapping demonstrations, presentations and displays. Cooking with maple syrup will be featured, as well as maple food. There is also a maple syrup competition, judged by celebrity chefs from Vancouver Island, awarding ribbons for Judges’ Choice, Best in Show, and light, medium and dark syrup. More than 2000 people attended the 2010 event and all the syrup available for sale sold out.
Vancouver Island maple syrup is obviously becoming a very popular local food product. Spend a weekend at Cobble House Bed & Breakfast in the Cowichan Valley and explore this new industry. If you have time left over, visit one of the many award-winning wineries and enjoy fabulous gourmet dining at several excellent Cowichan Valley restaurants such as Amuse Bistro, The Masthead, Steeples or the newest addition to fine dining in the Valley, the Stone Soup Inn.