In March, just as Canada’s eastern provinces round the corner on winter, the nation’s maple trees are tapped. As the mercury hovers above 5˚C by day and just above zero at night, this liquid gold flows until late April when the trees’ leaves bloom and the sap runs dry. In and around Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia, sugar shacks serve up generous quantities of maple-mingled fare. Canada supplies 71 per cent of the world’s maple syrup—92 per cent of which comes from Quebec alone, and most of the rest from Ontario and the Maritimes—so it’s no wonder locals and visitors alike come out to celebrate this sweet season.
Sugar Shacks in Quebec
Chef Louis-François Marcotte of Montreal’s high-end Les Rouges steakhouse bestowed an upscale menu on La Tablée des Pionniers when he bought the classic, 55-year-old sugar shack in Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré near Mont Tremblant (about an hour and a half north of Montreal). The menu boasts dishes using local products such as white wine from Rivière du Chêne Vineyard that has been flavoured with maple syrup.
Reservations are a must at Cabane à Sucre Au Pied De Cochon, the Mirabel-based cousin of Montreal’s popular restaurant, Au Pied du Cochon. Owner and celebrity chef Martin Picard’s belief that maple syrup is a national culinary treasure prompted him to open this sugar shack almost a decade ago. He taps the surrounding maple trees, makes his own syrup and creates a new menu each spring. Past dishes include maple-glazed duck, maple mille feuilles and maple-sugar cotton candy.
Sucrerie de la Montagne, less than 45 minutes west of Montreal, transports visitors back in time to the pioneer days and is a designated Quebec Heritage Site. This clapboard sugar shack is located amid 120 acres of century-old maples atop Mont Rigaud and serves up hearty meals year-round.
Maple-infused food and drinks
For the table: Voisin’s Maple Products at The Big Apple in Colborne, Ont
At The Big Apple in Colborne, Ont., a restaurant, minigolf course and petting zoo, find Voisin’s Maple Products including Maple Butter, Maple Garlic Sauce, Maple Pepper Relish and Smokey Maple BBQ.
At the bar: Cocktails at Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City
Stop in at the bar at the Chateau Frontenac hotel to try its new maple-tinged cocktails—the Jam le Sam with vodka, cranberry jam and pink pepper or the Glam Me More with whisky, Calvados and pear.
On the barbecue: Black Maple from Kappa Foods in Newmarket, Ont.
Jazz up your marinades and sauce reductions. This liquid smoke combined with maple syrup and “a secret vinegar,” is sweet and savoury, with a lingering umami finish.
Go to the maple museum at Cabane à Sucre Paquette near Montreal
In Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, less than an hour from Montreal, learn about traditional and modern tapping techniques and the sap-to-syrup stages of production and processing, before finishing with a maple water tasting.
Attend Sweet Discovery: The Mi’kmaq legend of maple syrup at Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Join Parks Canada Interpreter Mary Louise (Googoo) Bernard, a Mi’kmaw elder and spiritualist, author and former chief of the indigenous Wagmatcook community, for this weekly program that tells the ancient legend of Bernard’s ancestor, the Indian maiden, who was the first to boil maple sap to make syrup in the province.
Celebrate the end of the harvest at Elmira Maple Syrup Festival near Waterloo, Ontario
On April 7, meet farmers, take a tour of the sugar-bush and make maple taffy. There are also activities such as pancake-flipping and log-sawing contests, and round trips to the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market on a restored Waterloo Central Railway steam train.
Maple grades and tasting notes
- Delicate Taste
- Tapped as the tree is just waking up from winter’s freeze, this syrup is light in colour and perfect for marinades and salad dressings.
Try: Drip Blonde is harvested from a single forest in Northern Ontario.
- Rich Taste
- Tapped mid-season, this is the Goldilocks of syrups—neither too delicate, nor too strong—and is delicious drizzled on pancakes.
Try: Ontario’s The Graeme Foers Co.’s Tapped Out is smoky and full-bodied.
- Robust Taste
- With its strong and pronounced maple taste and dark colour, this syrup is a popular choice for baking.
Try: Cosman & Webb syrup, made in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, is organic, single-forest and unblended.
- Strong taste
- Similar to molasses, this syrup can be used in baking, as a sugar substitute in coffee, and when crafting bourbon, rum and whisky cocktails.
Try: 29 FÉVRIER’s Maple-in-a-tree is produced at the very end of the season.
Did you know: $18 million worth of syrup was stolen in Quebec
In 2012, the world’s biggest syrup stash, housed in Laurierville, Que., at the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers’ Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, was hit by thieves who made off with 6 million pounds of syrup, about one-quarter of the reserve, valued at around $18 million—much of this liquid gold has never been recovered. Today, security has been tightened at the reserve, and, while it’s not quite Fort Knox, it’s pretty close. If it sounds like a plot for a Hollywood movie, that’s because it eventually will be; the currently untitled movie is set to be directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses; The Goldbergs) and star Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother).