Maple syrup is part of Dori Ross's Canadian birthright. She grew up on a farm in rural Ontario, where tapping trees was simply a weekend hobby. Maple was such a common sweetener that it was referred to simply as sugar – making maple syrup was “sugaring.” Everyone in the family sugars, from Dori's aunt in Quebec to her sister in Ontario.
Dori couldn’t help it. She found herself tapping her Vermont trees with her three kids, who would run off the school bus every day to check the taps. Then they’d spill three quarters of the sap while running with full buckets up to the house. (Keep in mind it takes over 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup!) Fortunately, this was not yet a business. It was just fun.
It seemed inevitable that any food business Dori started would involve maple. But instead of tapping her own trees and selling the maple syrup, Dori realized that she wanted to use her marketing experience to help hardworking sugar makers and to elevate the status of the syrup, which is a true luxury food.
So she teamed up with local sugar makers in the Mad River Valley. They supply her with single-source syrup, some of which she sells. The rest gets delivered to a group of local Vermont artisan candy-makers, who transform the liquid staple into solid and truly unique goodies in the Tonewood line – maple cream and maple flakes.
Crunchy and sweet, the flakes are one of Tonewood's biggest assets, and the process for making them is something of a secret. Dori describes it as highly technological, but won't say much more. The ingredients, however, are pretty simple – just pure maple syrup. Dori likes to sprinkle them on her morning cappuccino, starting every day with the familiar taste of her favorite ingredient.
And, to make sure that maple syrup in all its forms is available for future generations, Dori donates 1% of her sales to the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center to fund climate change research, local farming efforts and sustainable forest stewardship.
What’s the biggest challenge ahead?
Climate change. Already it has been negatively affecting the health of maple trees and the production process. Experts warn there may be no sugaring in Vermont by the end of the century!
What do you do when you’re not working with maple?
Mountain biking or backcountry skiing in the woods of Vermont. The woods are my inspiration, too!
What's the benefit of working with other sugar makers, rather than tapping your own trees?
These multi-generational Vermont sugar making families are what inspires me most. I wish everyone who takes a sip or a taste of any maple product could meet the Vermonters behind the product. I have listened to wonderful stories of the times these men sugared their maple bushes with oxen and buckets with their parents and grandparents. There is so much history and culture behind maple.