Each year as winter recedes, the changing climate brings warmers days and frosty nights, causing sap in sugar maple trees to flow up from the roots, and maple harvesting to kick into high gear.
During this short, but eagerly anticipated sweet season, guests flock to sugar bushes (maple tree forests) and sugar shacks to witness tree tapping and sap boiling. Pancake houses pop up and kids are treated to maple taffy. Celebrations, themed events and full-blown maple festivals follow. Basically, Ontario goes into a delicious state of maple mania. Are you game?
Syrup is the just the start. This versatile flavour is used in so much more, from beer and wine to tea and coffee. It’s infused in spreads, jams, butter, butter tarts, donuts and bacon (hello, maple bacon donut!). Even spas devote full treatments to this nourishing sap.
Ready to dive in? Here are seven places to sample, celebrate and get into the maple madness mindset.
LANARK COUNTY & OTTAWA VALLEY
Welcome to Ontario’s maple syrup capital. From Perth to Pembroke, you’ll find a myriad of syrup farmers and producers of maple-inspired products. A stop on The Maple Trail, Wheelers Maple Heritage Museum in McDonald’s Corners is a great place to brush up on your knowledge of everything maple. Local brewers embrace the gooey goodness, from the Maple Reunion Moonshine at Top Shelf Distillery, to the Belgian Waffle Maple Quad at Square Timber Brewing Company and Perth Brewery’s award-winning Oh Canada Maple Ale. Shout out to Mill Street Brewery’s Madawaska Maple. While the brewery is technically not located in this area, this ale is brewed with Madawaska Valley maple syrup. Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush in Pakenham is like the godfather of maple with over 170 years and five generations of experience. They’ve even harnessed health-enhancing properties found in maple like vitamins, calcium and antioxidants and infused them into incredible Maple Luscious spa and beauty products (used at Ste Anne’s Spa in Northumberland County).
PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY
Celebrating local food and drink is essentially a religion in the County, so it’s no surprise that maple gets its fair tribute with a two-day festival of sugar bush tours, kid approved activities and more during Maple in the County. Don’t miss Black River Cheese’s melt-in-your-mouth, artisanal maple cheddar. A cheese lover’s delight.
NORFOLK & HALDIMAND COUNTY
The Sweetest Smell on Earth is a new and unique event offered at Richardson’s Farm and Market in Dunnville that treats guests to an immersive tree-to-table maple adventure. Start with the collection and boiling of the sap, followed by bottling your own supply of pure syrup, and finish with a maple-inspired meal prepared by a local chef, accompanied by musical entertainment. Just a short drive east in Waterford, Chambers Pure Maple Product is an eclectic little spot where you can stock up on jams, preserves and sweet or savoury maple BBQ sauce.
Each spring, Muskoka turns its attention to maple in a big way. From the Muskoka Maple Trail to the Muskoka Maple Festival, build your own getaway with maple themed tours, treats and accommodations. Simultaneously quench your thirst and treat your sweet tooth with the Butter Tart Maple Ale at Sawdust City Brewing. Or sample the Red Maple Dessert Wine at Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery. The sweet maple is perfectly balanced with a blend of tart cranberry.
There are a handful of dedicated maple syrup producers in this region, specifically on St. Joseph Island, just over half an hour’s drive from Sault. Ste Marie. With its abundance of maple trees, the island produces 18% of Ontario’s total maple syrup. Besides being one of the largest syrup producers in Ontario, Gilbertson’s Maple Products and Pancake House boasts a signature line of maple flavoured gourmet foods from mustard to dressings to nuts and candies. Nearby Thompson’s Maple Products is the largest verified organic operation in the province and its products include delicious maple flavoured tea, coffee and hot chocolate. Meet all the maple producers during the St. Joseph Island Maple Syrup Festival.
This close-knit community comes together to host A Taste of Maple each year with participating shops and restaurants dishing up maple-inspired menus, events, tours and workshops dedicated to the sweet sensation. Head to Caledon to pick up Maple Bourbon Bacon Jam and Maple Toffee Shortbread at Gourmandissimo Catering + Fine Food Shop, and share a wood-fired Maple Bacon Pizza at Spirit Tree Estate Cidery. Or skip over to Mono to horde the mouth-watering Maple Crème Brulée at Hockley Valley Resort all to yourself. The Magic of Maple package at Millcroft Inn and Spa includes themed cocktails, menus, spa treatments and a guided sugar bush walking tour and taffy making demonstrations.
STRATFORD AND OXFORD COUNTY
Maple mixes well with others. Try the decadent Maple Fudge at Rocky Mtn Chocolate, one of the stops along the Stratford Chocolate Trail, or the fan favourite Maple Nut Fudge at Rhéo Thompson Candies. Local syrup is used in seasonal treats at Chocolatea in downtown Ingersoll. One of the largest maple syrup packers in Ontario, Jakeman’s Pure Maple Syrup, near Woodstock produces a host of sap inspired deliciousness from a maple ice wine-syrup to cream cookies and popcorn. And you can also pick up maple syrup’s favourite sidekick here, Jakeman’s premium buttermilk pancake mix.
And that’s not all folks. There are so many more amazing maple syrup festivals and events all over Ontario, like the Elgin Maple Trail, Kawarthas Northumberland Maple Festival, Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival, Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, Kingston’s Maple Madness, Sugarbush Maple at Bruce Mills Conservation Area and the Sugarbush Adventure at White Meadows Farm in St. Catharines. Visit ontariotravel.net for more festivals and ontariomaple.com for info on Ontario’s maple makers.
There’s good reason our flag proudly bears the maple leaf. We just can’t get enough of this sweet and sticky stuff!
Main image photo credit: York Durham Headwaters