Vermont is trying something new this maple syrup season. No longer are they using the old labels of Grade A and B and so forth. They've been replaced by a new system that makes maple syrup sound more like a fine wine or a fancy coffee. Melody Bodette finds out how the new grades are going over.


MELODY BODETTE, BYLINE: At Green's Sugarhouse in Poultney, visitors are gathered around four squeeze bottles of syrup, sampling the new grades. The new labels give both the color - golden, amber or dark - and a flavor description - delicate, rich, robust and strong. Gone is the former system with names like Fancy, Grade A Dark Amber, and Grade B. But even some Vermonters are confused by the change.

TEE-ANN MCCREA: I like the old grading system much better.

BODETTE: Tee-Ann McCrea takes a spoonful of the lightest colored syrup.

MCCREA: I don't know. More of a fancy. That's the name I'm used to it, for it.

BODETTE: This year the same syrup is called golden delicate, but what does it taste like? Diane Bargiel and Jennifer Wagner try to answer.

DIANE BARGIEL: Delicate? No.


BODETTE: What would you call it?

WAGNER: Slight. With a name like dark robust, I would expect a lot of maple flavor, you know, like, you know, strong maple flavor, and kind of like a coffee.

BODETTE: That's the kind of association sugar makers, like Pam Green, are hoping customers will make. Green has been sugaring in this valley for about 40 years. She thinks the flavor descriptions will help sell syrup to people who aren't used to buying real maple products.

PAM GREEN: Not very many people have a chance to come to a sugarhouse and to sample different grades and have somebody explain to them about the differences, you know. They're standing in front of a supermarket shelf, and they're wondering if they're really going to like what's in that jug. You know, when I always use the grey tea, I made it when it was...

BODETTE: Green takes a break from running the evaporator - that's the machine that boils the sap down to syrup - to explain the process and the new grades, to visitors. Green says syrup novices sometimes bought fancy, thinking it was the highest quality syrup, but were disappointed after tasting it.

GREEN: But if you got that and you thought, wow, if this is their best syrup, you know, it doesn't have much flavor, I guess I don't like maple syrup.

BODETTE: Still, change can be hard for some.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They should have left it alone but they didn't.

BODETTE: But for others, like Leigh-Ann Brown, names matter less than the flavor and quality.

LEIGH-ANN BROWN: I love them, I tried them all about five times and I can't figure out which one I like best. So, I think we're going to have to go with one of each.

BODETTE: Sugar makers hope the new grades will be adopted by other states, so buyers can be sure to get their favorite syrup, no matter what state it's from. But for now, Vermont is still alone. And it's unclear if Canada, which makes most of the world's syrup, will make the change. For NPR News, I'm Melody Bodette.


MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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