After being introduced to Ken Fosty’s Manitoba Maple Syrup this past week, I’m thinking we have an un-tapped and deeply delicious resource on our hands.

It’s rare to find Manitoba maple syrup on local grocery shelves, mainly because there’s not much in the way of commercial production here. 

Fosty tapping maple

Ken Fosty tapping a maple (Mike Green)

Fosty, an arborist with nearly two decades of experience in syrup making, assures me that much of this is due to our province’s rather short spring.

“Syrup flows when daytime temperatures are above zero and nighttime below zero.”

“So generally speaking the sap will start to flow around the middle of March, and hopefully flow perhaps until the end of April,” said Fosty.

It’s a pretty tight little window when you think about it, especially compared to Quebec, where over 75 per cent of the world’s maple syrup can start flowing weeks earlier.

And every second counts when it comes to drawing the sap.

“Good trees that produce a lot of sap will give you up to eight litres of sap in a day. That’s a lot,” said Fosty. “But other trees – and nobody knows why – will only give you a few ounces per day.”

This is significant because the ratio of turning sap to syrup is 40 to 1 (so 40 litres from the tree will get you one in the bottle). 

Roland Gagne in the Sugar Shack syrup cooking room

Roland Gagne in the Sugar Shack syrup cooking room (Mike Green)

It’s really not much when it all boils down to it, so really the amount of sap you can produce over time is everything.

This is something that Roland Gagné -- who runs the Sugar Shack at Festival du Voyageur and the Festival des sucres in St-Pierre-Jolys -- knows quite well.

“Last year we made about 22 gallons; that’s all we made on 400 trees,” said Gagné, about their syrup operation in St-Pierre-Jolys. “Our season is so short, there is really only a 14 day harvest period.”

Maple syrup reducing at the Sugar Shack

Maple syrup reducing at the Sugar Shack. (Mike Green)

The syrup you get at Festival du Voyageur, all 350 gallons of it, Gagné brings in from St-Jean-Port-Joli, Quebec. It’s fine syrup indeed, and the Sugar Shack crew makes it even better by reducing it further (and thereby concentrating the flavour) in a make-shift shack for your snow taffy.

But I will argue this, if enough syrup could ever be produced in this province to feed the whole Festival, then prairie folk might stop looking east.

The deep, rich flavour of Manitoba maple syrup is quite striking compared to Quebec’s. And no, I would not dare argue that one is superior; I have Ken Fosty to do that for me:

“Well I can tell you that Manitoba maple tastes better than Quebec sugar maple,” said Fosty. “But of course I have a bias on that.”

The Festival des sucres runs from April 12 to 13 in St-Pierre-Jolys.