Fourteen miles away from Middlebury in Bristol, Vt., Hillsboro Sugar Works has been operating since 1979 and now produces around 5,000 gallons of maple syrup annually, a large portion of which is consumed by the College.
Most of the maple syrup in the United States is produced in Vermont, and comes from small, family-run farms like Hillsboro, which is owned and run by Susan Folino and her husband, Dave.
“We are direct marketers, deliverers and producers,” wrote Folino in an email about their operation. “Dave and I are the only employees with the exception of a few weeks of tapping help prior to our season.”
Hillsboro sells four grades of syrup: fancy, medium amber, dark amber and grade B. The grades are determined by how long the sap is boiled for in the cooking process. Fancy and medium amber are lighter in color and flavor, and are used as condiments, whereas dark amber and grade B, which are darker and stronger, are used for cooking.
According to Charles Sargent, the buyer for Middlebury Dining Services, medium amber is used in the dining halls, and small amounts of grade B are purchased for baking and cooking purposes from Stowe Sugar Works in Ripton, Vt. to supplement the syrup from Hillsboro.
During tapping season, tappers snowshoe out amongst the maple trees, drilling up to 14,400 holes. It’s a difficult task that starts in mid-February and can last for two to three weeks. After the trees are tapped, the sap is taken to the sugarhouse, where it is processed into maple syrup through a simple boiling process. The Folinos use two reverse osmosis machines, in addition to a machine called a steam away, which was purchased in an attempt to be more environmentally friendly. According to their website, the steam away has reduced Hillsboro’s energy consumption by at least 33 percent. This device provides an additional layer of sap above the boiling sap which is starting the evaporation process from the energy already being used. One downside to this contraption is that it does detract from the charm of seeing the sap boil, as Folino wrote in an email, but that loss is a sacrifice the Folinos were willing to make in exchange for less energy consumption.
In addition to being energy-conscious, Hillsboro Sugar Works “are a certified organic operation and go through rigorous inspections to be certified,” Folino wrote. Part of how they guarantee that their syrup is organic is by controlling every aspect of production. Hillsboro is unique from other maple syrup producers in that it is a guaranteed single-source operation, meaning that all of their sap and syrup is 100 percent guaranteed to have come from their farm on Hillsboro Mountain. Some producers bring sap in from other areas in order to augment their production, but Hillsboro chooses not to in order to preserve the purity of their product.
Since the College is so close to Hillsboro, a partnership between the two institutions seemed natural. The College purchases syrup from Hillsboro on a regular basis. According to Folino, she delivers 10 to 25 gallons of syrup to the dining halls every four to six weeks. Hillsboro has always been able to complete orders for the College, even in years with sparser production. This year, however, was a good year for sugar makers, wrote Sargent in an email.
The College has been a customer of Hillsboro for almost 30 years, a relationship that both sides benefit from and value immensely.