Riordon Maple Products — award winning maple
George Riordon is the fifth generation on his plot of land, and the first to tap into its award-winning maple syrup potential. Riordon Maple Products has been producing there since 1983.
In the spring, the bearded 76 year-old can often be found sleeping at his camp, where 3500 trees connected by blue and black lines suck sap to a large stainless steel tank. When the sap is running, you have to be working, and that can be at any time.
“It’s mother nature – you don’t know when the sap is going to be flowing,” Riordon said from the kitchen table of the house his father built, at the edge of his large property in Pokeshaw.
The ideal conditions for collecting sap is freezing temperatures at night, followed by above zero temperatures during the day.
“The experts say that if you want to save some syrup for the competitions, you save the syrup right after a real cold snap,” Riordon said. “We haven’t really necessarily used that rule.”
Riordon still doesn’t produce for competitions, even though he’s brought home a lot of impressive awards.
The operation doesn’t revolve around waiting for the best syrup of the season. He prefers to produce good syrup all season long, and if one of those bottles wins – so be it.
In 2017 he won first prize internationally for his maple butter, second prize for his granulated maple sugar, and second prize for his dark maple syrup.
This follows a string of awards throughout the years in competitions for provincial, north american and international associations.
But it’s still debatable when the best syrup is produced.
Some customers reserve the very last bottles of the season well in advance, when the syrup is darker and stronger. Riordon personally prefers mid-season. And many prefer the light subtle flavours that the trees typically produce at the start of the season.
Like a lot of a natural products, it’s a series of smaller and obvious factors – like cleanliness – that stack up to create quality products. But Riordon’s operation does have a few distinguishing factors.
Reverse osmosis is practically a necessity for any commercial maple syrup production. The machine quickly removes water from the sap without heat. In Riordon’s case, he’ll bring sap with a 2 to 2.5% sugar content up to 8 or 9%. Some bigger producers will go all the way up to 25-30%.
Removing water this way reduces the time and energy required, but the heat does contribute to the flavor. Riordon gets the flavours he likes by boiling a little longer, and using a wood fire evaporator.
Of course, another distinguishing factor is the land.
“As far as quality is concerned, I think soil is an important factor,” he said. “We’ve never fertilized our lines or whatever, but I think it’s considered an important factor.”
The land is the reason he got into this business in the first place. He estimates that he could be tapping 5,000 to 6,000 trees, but only taps a little over half of that.
The quiet of working in the woods appeals to Riordon, as well as the social aspect that comes along with primarily selling his product himself, at farmer’s markets and out of his home.
With careers as social workers, Riordon and his wife weren’t concerned with supporting themselves with this business. In fact, they were originally told that cutting down the trees and putting the money in the bank would have earned them more money than producing maple syrup. Interest rates were high in the early 80’s.
The price of maple syrup has since climbed, as the rest of the world has acquired the taste for maple, and its reputation as one of the healthier sweeteners has grown.
“It certainly could be developed into a good business today,” Riordon said. “If I were 30 years old … with the experience I have, and the technology today.”
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