Did you know New York State is home to the largest resource of tappable maple trees in the USA? Because of that, the state uses maple and maple syrup as a tourism tool. I don’t know when the first Maple Weekend was held, but the last two weekends in March are now part of Maple Weekend, when maple syrup producers throughout the state open their doors and put on special events. We try to get to at least one producer a year, although it doesn’t always happen.
This year, thanks to a Facebook advertisement (yes, those targeted Facebook ads do work on occasion!), we discovered Ulinger’s Maple Farm, in East Otto, New York. They were promoting ice cream with maple syrup and that was a decider for me! Following directions from a map app on my phone, we drove over muddy back roads after church last Sunday with the dog in the back seat. We weren’t sure what there’d be when we got there: some operations pull all the stops out with wagon rides and a petting zoo while others simply offer samples and a store.
We pulled into the driveway and found the sugar house, at least I think that’s what it’s called, but finding a way in was a different matter. We walked through an open door, ducking under tubing, but couldn’t find anyone. One of the children eventually emerged from the main house, three dogs in tow, and directed us through a closed door where we found a small crowd. The owner, Tim, seemed to know many of the people there and I felt a bit odd, but he immediately came over and introduced himself. It put us at ease. By the way, our dog stayed in the car. We took him out a bit later to sniff the trees, where he also got to meet one of the dogs.
Tim is a former police officer who first began tapping maple trees at the age of nine with his dad. It was a hobby. Now it’s a labor of love, which was evident from the way he talked with us about it. When the property in East Otto became available, he bought it and grew the business while still working full time. He’s married with five children, and the oldest is employed full time.
Tim and his wife gave the gathered group a quick tour of the operation inside and Mrs. Ulinger took us outside to explain the tapping process. I wish I’d taken note of how many lines they had running and how many gallons per hour they’d been collecting that week. Suffice to say, it was a lot. We could see the sap running through the lines. It looks like water. I think I’d expected it to be thicker.
Then it was back down to the sugar house where the syrup was just about ready. We had a sample of their melt in the mouth maple sugar candy and pure maple cream, and were shown the bottling process. Then came the moment I’d been waiting for. Yes, we were served vanilla ice cream with hot, fresh, maple syrup. That syrup hadn’t even made it to the barrel. And it was delicious. We chatted with Tim for a bit longer, purchased some candy and maple bacon ale sauce (not on their website) and headed out. We discovered a quicker way home, far less convoluted than the route we’d taken to get to the farm. Yesterday we marinated some chicken with the sauce we bought and, yes, it was delicious also.
Ulinger’s is a lovely family operation and we were greeted and treated warmly once we found our way inside. Once the season is over they plan on expanding slightly which will give them more room for the store area. Hopefully, it will also be a little more obvious where the visitor entrance is once the work is complete.
Disclaimer: the Ulinger family doesn’t know I was going to write this blog entry. I didn’t know I was going to write this until after we left when I reflected on the fun little excursion we’d had. We bought the products we left with. And I ate two pieces of maple sugar candy while writing this.