Nearly sap season: One area producer shows us how it’s done
By Heather Graves
DE PERE – For those in the “business, the short stretch of time nestled between winter and spring, when the temps rise to above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, ” is considered the fifth season of the year – sap season.
“Our season depends on Mother Nature,” Theresa Baroun, co-owner of Maple Sweet Dairy in De Pere, said. “For sap production to happen, it needs to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. Hopefully the weather is perfect this year for a great season.”
Baroun said Maple Sweet Dairy is a generational family business passed down by her parents.
She said what started with a few trees has expanded to “the state-of-art business that it is today.”
“We work hard together to make a great product, create new products and educate people about Wisconsin maple syrup,” Baroun said. “We also work hard to make the best products while continuing to make new innovations along the way.”
Maple Sweet Dairy was established in 1964 by Baroun’s parents, Don and Ev Van Deurzen.
The name Maple Sweet Dairy came from the maple syrup and sweet corn that the Van Deurzens produced on their dairy farm – a winning combination in their book.
Baroun said her parents started tapping a few trees with a handheld crank drill and collected the sap in pails.
“They used to carry the sap to cook in the woods on a flat pan over a wood fire, and then carry the finished maple syrup out of the woods to can,” she said.
Baroun said as the family grew, the operation grew, and continued to expand through the years.
The Van Deurzens have 10 children, 31 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
After a few years of cooking in the woods, the Van Deurzens moved their cooking operation into a small sugar house on their family farm.
Then in 2006, Baroun said they built the new sugar house at its current location and upgraded to a 3×12-foot evaporator.
In 2017, a state-licensed kitchen was added to the facility.
As time passed and tree tapping evolved, Baroun said Maple Sweet changed along with it.
“The operation has expanded through the years from mainly collecting by pails to a (majority) tubing system,” she said. “The tubing systems include 3/16 and 5/16 tubing, one is gravity fed and the others are on a solar-powered vacuum system.”
In 2017, Baroun said her and her daughter, Alicia, started Maple Buzz to bring maple and honey together.
Baroun said Maple Buzz has seven bee hives, and works together with Maple Sweet Dairy to create many specialty products, including maple cream, maple sugar, maple seasoning, maple cotton candy, maple coffee, honey coffee, bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, honey maple syrup, cinnamon maple syrup, maple-creamed honey, creamed honey, honey, maple balsamic, honey maple vinaigrette and more.
Baroun and her husband, Jon, took over operations in May 2020.
“Together, Maple Sweet Dairy and Maple Buzz work together to keep it sweet in Wisconsin,” she said.
Maple Sweet has been a member of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association since 1967.
In 2010, the Van Deurzens were named Producers of the Year, and in 2017 were named Honorary Life Members.
Contrary to what some may think, maple syrup doesn’t flow directly from trees.
Baroun said when sap comes out of the tree it is about 97 % water.
When cooked, she said, the water evaporates and becomes syrup.
Baroun said the process to make the sticky, sweet treat is a labor of love – a work-heavy process from start to finish.
“Tapping in our area usually begins in mid-to-late February,” she said. “A maple tree needs to be 10 inches in diameter before you can tap it. Sap per day depends on the weather of the day.”
Baroun said after the sap is collected, it is cooked in the evaporator until it becomes between 66-68 brix, which is the legal definition of when maple sap is considered maple syrup.
“From the evaporator, the maple syrup is sent through a filter press, then is ready for bottling,” she said. “It takes roughly 43 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. Nothing is added to maple syrup – just sap from the tree cooked into maple syrup.”
Baroun said Maple Sweet has 1,050 taps, which include 160 acres of their own land, along with some of their neighbors’ woods.
“We also buy sap from family members and friends (when needed),” she said. “We have a 3×12 wood-fired evaporator with a piggyback system, stream away and we finish on a propane finish pan.”
Baroun said after all these years in business, the work continues to bring her family together.
“We are truly a family business,” she said. “We don’t have employees. We, family and friends, are the employees. We are also lucky to have a great webmaster, our son Justin, to develop our website and update it. And daughter, Alicia, continues to think of new product ideas.”
Baroun said above all, Maple Sweet Dairy focuses on producing quality maple syrup.
“A person wants to know where their food comes from,” Baroun said. “It is nice and convenient to go to your local Sugarbush and pick up your maple syrup. Also, it gives people a chance to come out and see the process. Maple Sweet Dairy offers educational tours throughout the year, including during spring maple season, to see the action first-hand.”
To help celebrate the syrup season, Maple Sweet Dairy is holding its annual open house from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 12 at the farm located at 4501 County Road W in De Pere.
Baroun said the event will feature educational tours, wagon rides to the woods and many products to sample.
The event is open to the public and free.
More information can be found at maplebuzzwi.com