BECAUSE MAPLE syrup is a key part of Vermont’s identity, changing the laws that govern the industry was never going to go down easy. The Green Mountain State, the country’s largest maple syrup producer, recently became the first jurisdiction to adopt international grading standards developed for use across the United States and Canada. But the standards, drawn up by the International Maple Syrup Institute in an effort to reduce consumer confusion, will require syrup producers to adjust their labels. They’ve also been mocked as an engine of grade inflation: “Grade B” syrup will now be known as “Grade A Dark.” Some Vermonters are vowing to resist. “I’m not changing,” one maple producer told The Wall Street Journal. “What are they going to do, put me in jail?”
The dispute is too easily portrayed as a case of Big Maple ignoring the wisdom of crusty old Vermonters. There are, in fact, potential benefits to the industry if people around the world have a consistent way to judge what they’re buying. Then again, this effort does come along as major trends in the food world are running in the opposite direction — away from standardization and toward idiosyncrasy and local custom. There was a certain maple-syrup-junkie cachet that came with preferring darker, more intensely flavored Grade B syrup to Grade A. Vermont shouldn’t let the new standards become an obstacle to putting a broader spectrum of syrups on the market.
What’s needed is the kind of pragmatic attitude that often prevails in northern New England. Vermont maple producers should give the new approach a shot for a few seasons — but be prepared to restore the old rules if the new ones fail the pancake test.