One of the great gifts that the Native Americans gave to the early settlers of the United States was the art of maple sugaring.
No trip to Vermont is complete without some contact with maple syrup — whether it takes the form of a small puddle atop a stack of pancakes at a small-town cafe, or a visit to a maple-focused museum.
Many people visit Vermont for two specific purposes: to see the leaves on trees turn into beautiful shades of red and orange, and to experience the wonders of maple syrup at its most famous source.
But Vermont’s culinary offerings extend far beyond that sweet elixir. The state also is home to artisan cheese makers, purveyors of world-class chocolate, a number of fun-to-visit wineries and one very famous ice cream factory.
But first things first. There are several places where one can soak in (and soak up) the maple syrup experience, including the Maple Sugarhouse Museum in St. Johnsbury, Bragg Farm Sugarhouse and Gift Shop in East Montpelier, the New England Maple Museum in Pittsford, and Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock.
The Maple Sugarhouse Museum is operated by Maple Grove Farms, and is a replica of a maple sugarhouse. Guests can view an informative 15-minute video before exploring a gift shop packed with pure maple syrup, maple candy, maple spreads and much more.
Bragg Farm has been producing maple syrup for eight generations, and still uses traditional methods of maple sugaring. During the sugaring season, guests can see as many as 2,500 buckets hanging in the nearby woods. In addition to a gift shop, Bragg Farm is home to a maple ice cream parlor.
An extensive collection of sugaring artifacts can be viewed at the New England Maple Museum, which also features more than 100 feet of murals, an antique photo collection, an informative slide show and something wine lovers will appreciate: a tasting room. Is your favorite grade of syrup light, medium or dark?
Woodstock’s Sugarbush Farm offers a double-barreled tasting opportunity: four grades of pure maple syrup, along with 14 varieties of cheese. It’s a great stop for families, as kids will enjoy looking at the farm animals and walking the maple and nature woodland trail.
Cheese lovers will want to pick up a copy of the Vermont Cheese Trail map, which includes listings for 44 cheese makers throughout the state. The brochure includes addresses and hours of operation. Be aware that many have limited hours depending on the season, and some require an appointment.
The same is true of many of Vermont’s wineries, so a copy of the Vermont Breweries and Wineries brochure can be very helpful.
For a unique vinous experience, head for the tiny island of South Hero in Lake Champlain, which is home to Snow Farm Vineyard. Snow Farm is believed to be Vermont’s oldest vineyard, and owner Harrison Lebowitz sees it both as a winery and a way of fighting urban sprawl.
Fresh Tracks Farm is located in the rolling hills just outside Montpelier. From its 14-acre vineyard, a selection of rosé-style and white wines is complemented by a highly acclaimed apple wine.
An array of fruit and specialty wines can be found at Grandview Winery in East Calais. You may feel like you’re in an isolated corner of Napa Valley as the estate includes a winemaking learning center that accommodates tours, a gorgeous garden and a gallery featuring the work of Vermont artists.
No visit to Vermont is complete without a stop at Ben & Jerry’s in Waterbury, where guests get the inside scoop on some of the most delicious ice cream made anywhere. The factory tour lasts 30 minutes, and keep in mind that no ice cream-making takes place on the weekends; to see the entire process, visit on a weekday.
And for one more sweet treat, take a tour at Lake Champlain Chocolates in Burlington, where you’ll see numerous confections made right before your eyes. Tours are offered only on weekdays, so plan ahead.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to Vermont than maple syrup. That said, don’t forget to take some syrup home. After pouring it on homemade pancakes, waffles or French toast, you may look upon supermarket “table syrup” much like boxed wine.
– – – – –
Here are some website links to help you plan your “Vinous Vermont” vacation…
Maple Grove Farms, St. Johnsbury, VT
Bragg Farm, East Montepelier, VT
New England Maple Museum, Pittsford, VT
Sugarbush Farm, Woodstock, VT
Vermont Cheese Council
Vermont Brewers Assn.
Snow Farm Vineyard, South Hero, VT
Fresh Tracks Farm, Berlin, VT
Grandview Winery, East Calais, VT
Ben & Jerry’s, Waterbury, VT
Lake Champlain Chocolates, Burlington, VT