Canadian Birch Company article by Heather Bailey
Today, the Canadian Birch Company Ltd., owned and operated by Glenda and Rory Hart, is a successful provider of locally produced, distinctly flavoured, gourmet birch syrup. The company began, however, somewhat inauspiciously!
When it came time for their family to settle down after several relocations, the Hart’s found a beautiful piece of property, well treed with numerous birches, in the Balsam Bay area where Glenda had grown up.
Once they were living on the property they wondered if there could be more to all those lovely trees. An internet search provided the answer – Birch syrup.
The first foray was tapping half a dozen trees and using the barbeque to cook the syrup. It was not the best start but the potential was clear – it was an idea that just wouldn’t go away. So, several years later another tract of land with a large number of birch trees was purchased and the Harts jumped in with both feet.
At first, it was trial and error. Rory researched the European way of tapping the trees for sap and began with basic extraction methods used in Finland. The operation is complex: work in the forest maintaining vacuum pumps, hauling back to the sugar house, filtering and bottling the syrup, and preparing products for distribution. It is a year-round operation and this year the Covid pandemic has meant the family has had to do all the work of a larger group of staff.
Glenda took me out to the Birch Forest on a four-wheel drive for a first-hand look at the operation. From the trees to the drop line, lateral line, main line, wet line, dry line – there are literally miles of lines! And they require constant attention. All the lines are pressurized. If there is a break in a line the pressure will change and it is a process of elimination to find the break or damage. Bears have been known to bite and swipe at the harvesting lines (they’ve even hung out on the rooves of buildings!). Other critters can also do damage, so lines have to be checked and repaired on a regular basis.
Once the sap is collected it is filtered and cooked. Intricate equipment separates and concentrates the liquid. A hot air evaporator reduces the syrup further. Once the process begins, it is a continuous cycle which includes a rigorous cleaning of all equipment, and timing is critical.
The Harts are experimenting with growing and transplanting birch trees for sustainability, but it is a long process. It takes 40 years or more for a birch to reach maturity and moving trees is risky.
The Hart’s original business plan was simply to make and market birch syrup. However, birch syrup was new to the local market and it is not like the usual pancake variety, but rather a culinary syrup. In order to develop a market and educate clients, the Harts had to work beyond being just a bulk syrup distributor.
One of their most popular items is the Birch Bacon Jam. It is used on charcuterie boards, burgers, and mixed in beans. Another product, the Birch Whiskey Toffee Sauce, is the best ice cream topping you will ever taste! It can be used in an apple crumble or can replace the brown sugar mix of an upside-down cake. The Birch Que Sauce is a thin sauce with no fillers: it is pure birch syrup with some added flavourings and can be used as a marinade.
The Harts produce two syrups: Amber and Gold. Amber Syrup is the base for many of the products mentioned above and can be used for cooking meats and root vegetables, and making sauces. The Gold Syrup is lighter and closer to maple syrup but has a unique taste. Gold Syrup is delicious spread like honey on a tea biscuit.
All of the company’s products are naturally vegan, certified organic, gluten-friendly, sustainable, and Canadian-made. There are plans for new products on the horizon.
Go to https://canadianbirchcompany.com to order any of their products on-line. Follow on Instagram at @canadianbirchsyrup for recipes and videos of the operation. (My personal favorite recipe is the Birch Roasted Mushrooms.)
It was a fascinating afternoon and I learned so much about birch syrup. Thank you, Glenda for a wonderful experience and sharing how it all happens!