The first ever batch of Okanagan Valley maple syrup was boiling at Maple Roch in Summerland Saturday, March 16.
The company has been providing maple products to the community for seven years, but just last year came up with the idea of trying to tap local trees for a purely local product.
“We have tapped about 50 trees, we have about 75 taps going,” said owner Roch Fortin, adding that private owners from around the area reached out once they heard his plans. “From five different locations in Summerland, the District of Summerland gave us permission to tap five trees as a trial and we really appreciated that.”
On Saturday, Maple Roch opened up to let the public see the boiling process of the clear sap from the local trees. They were processing 75 gallons of sap, and saw well over 100 curious visitors.
“Which is good, but it means I have to work many hours,” Fortin said with a laugh. “Because once you start you can’t stop!”
Fortin did a test run last year with a small amount of sap from local trees. This year, it’s full steam ahead to bottle and sell a local twist on the Canadian classic.
“The process is simple, you collect the sap, you filter the sap, from there it goes into an evaporator,” Fortin said, explaining the liquid is boiled at an extremely high temperature to dilute the substance down to the high sugar, high viscosity syrup we have come to know and love.
“Next thing we know, when it reaches 211-212 degrees, we put it in a big bucket and a little bit later we will distribute it to the fine folks here in Summerland,” Fortin said.
Community is important to Fortin. He supports three families back home in New Brunswick by selling their east coast maple syrup, and sells maple-infused products made by nearby Okanagan artisans.
“In addition, we are a social enterprise. Everybody working with us are either on long-term disability from the food bank, or physical disabilities, we’re just working with a large group of individuals that contribute immensely to the success of our business,” Fortin said.
He said using his business to help the community is far more important to him than any monetary gain could be.
“We’re not going to be multimillionaires,” Fortin said. “One thing’s for sure, we know we’re contributing a lot.”