Local Hero Profile: Bergeron Sugar House
By Laura Tupper, CISA Staff
Published in CISA’s April 2015 Enewsletter- Sign up here!
Find Bergeron Sugar House online here.
Three drums of sap still warm from the boil are cooling in the back room at Bergeron Sugar House in Leyden. Yesterday’s boil was only the second of the year, though it is late March, and it resulted in about 125 gallons of sweet maple syrup. In a typical year, Bergeron Sugar House will produce 800-1000 gallons of syrup, and though the weather has led to a late start this year, Bob remains optimistic: “You’ll always get some syrup, you’ve just got to have the patience.”
As we stand in the warm spring sun in front of the sugarhouse and look out at the snow still fixed in its position beneath the tapped trees, Bob offers the reassuring speculation that, “it may be a later season again this year, but I don’t think it’s going to be a bad year.” As we talk, Bob has one ear open to the sap that we hear pouring into the tank just outside the wall. He tells me that the warm weather today is likely to fill the tanks and require a boil tomorrow or even possibly tonight. “But hopefully not until tomorrow,” he adds with a laugh that hints at many late-night boils.
Bob takes pride in the flavor and quality of the syrup from the trees at his farm. Similar to the way that the qualities of a particular wine are affected by the soil and climate surrounding the grape vines, he knows that there is something to be said for having a good location to create more flavorful syrup. The hillside that is home to Bergeron Sugar House’s 3,500 taps faces southeast, allowing the trees to warm earlier in the day and enable the sap to flow for longer. The flavor and sugar content of the sap is affected by the conditions the tree faced in the previous year, says Bob, so southeast-facing trees will differ from north-facing trees. The sugar content of the sap coming in this year is higher than a typical year due to a dry season last year, which means that Bob will get more syrup per gallon of sap.
Bob started his sugaring career at his grandparents’ sugarhouse in Whately when he was around 15 years old, and he went on to establish his own sugarshack with a business partner in Whately while working as a chef. Bob is an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, and in addition to working in many restaurants, he spent the past 28 years as the night chef at the Williston Northampton School. With the help of his family and friends, Bob finished building Bergeron Sugar House in Leyden in 2009, and began operating it that very spring. Snowshoes, thermoses of hot water to thaw ice blockages, and whatever else it may take to get the sap, Bob has succeeded in producing enough syrup to supply his customers year-round since 2009.
On boiling days, Bob’s good friend, Howard Maynard joins him in the sugarhouse. Using a vacuum system to gather sap and a reverse osmosis system to turn the raw sap, which is about 2% sugar, to a concentrate of about 10% sugar, they are able to have a more efficient boil. Standing on the narrow platform beside the evaporator, Bob points out the various parts of the boiling process as he explains his plan to upgrade his system. “To sugar, you have to be able to do a lot yourself,” Bob explains. When he has a project that he can’t tackle, “that’s when I know to call Howard,” he says with a smile.
Now retired from his culinary career, Bob spends February through early April sugaring, and the rest of the year preparing wood, improving the sugarhouse, and maintaining the land. Bob truly lives by his philosophy that “if you keep going, it will keep you going.” His detailed explanation of how to heat, cool, beat, and screen syrup to produce a flavorful and perfectly textured granulated maple sugar reveals how deeply his culinary background advises his current maple ventures. And the smoothness of Bergeron Maple Cream might be enough to make one consider going to culinary school.
You can purchase Bergeron Sugar Houses maple syrup, candies, cream, and granulated sugar at Atkins Farms Country Market, Atlas Farm Stand, Big E’s, Maple Farm Foods, All Things Local, the Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market, and farm stands around the Pioneer Valley.