ST. ALBANS CITY — The Vermont Maple Festival kicked off Thursday night with the judging for best maple syrup, maple products and maple-baked goods.

Winners can use their victory to promote the quality of their products.

Syrups are judged on the density of sugar, the clarity and color of the syrup and its taste.

This year sugarmakers in Vermont are transitioning to a new classification system for syrup. They have a choice of using the old system in their marketing or the new one. Judging categories were set up based upon the new system, explained Henry Marckres, of the Agency of Agriculture, Farms and Markets.

Marckres and Tim Wilmot judged the golden color, delicate flavor category, which corresponds to syrup long labeled fancy. With the field narrowed to just two possibilities for the blue ribbon, Cecile Branon, of Fairfield, a longtime sugarmaker and co-chair of the festival was asked for her opinion.

After tasting one of the syrups, Branon asked about the density – the concentration of sugar in the syrup. As she expected, it was on the low side. “If they had just boiled it a bit longer,” she said, casting her vote for the other syrup. Marckres agreed with her selection, although Wilmot did not.

Judges in another category found a syrup with a faint taste of gasoline. After tasting the syrup, Branon asked to smell the cap. She then suggested the syrup maker had stored the jars in a building where a gasoline engine was started. The smell of the gas was transferred to the jug and then to the syrup, she surmised.

“Maple will pick up other flavors easy,” said Bruce Martell, a retired Agency of Agriculture employee who has been judging at the festival for 38 years.

“You can take an excellent product and ruin it by placing it in the wrong jar,” said another judge, George Cook.

“This is a learning experience for people,” said Wilmot. “If they have an off flavor they learn why and can fix it.”

After the festival is over, Marckres will send letters to those whose syrups or other products were disqualified explaining where the judges believe they went wrong.

Although “fancy” syrup is now officially “golden and delicate,” Vermont producers may still label it “Vermont Fancy.”

Medium and some dark amber syrups under the old system are now being labeled “amber” syrup with a “rich taste.”

Syrup previously labeled Grade B in Vermont and No. 2 Amber in Canada is now Grade A “dark” with a “robust taste.”

The final category is Grade A “very dark” with a “strong taste.” In Vermont, this syrup was previously listed as commercial grade. Marckres said he has tasted some of the syrup in this category. “What I’ve had is OK,” he said.

After tasting dozens of syrups, Wilmot concluded, “The syrup is quite good this year.”

Martell and Cook judged the maple products, including a crystallized maple sugar called Indian sugar, maple cream and maple fudge.

Each product has a characteristic maple flavor, said Martell, and that’s what the judges are judging when they taste the products.

Products are also judged on other characteristics. Maple creams, for example, are disqualified for being too thin, and a winning maple cream will have a smooth texture that is neither too thin nor too firm.

The homemade baked goods and sauces were judged by six volunteers from the Cooperative Insurance Company and associated local agents.

In teams of two, they tasted 51 cakes, cookies, barbecue sauces and other items.

Cooperative Insurance has been sending judges for several years now. Originally, the entire team would taste everything, but that was simply too much food.

The baked goods and other products are judged on their appearance, compliance with the rules, taste, texture and the presence of maple flavor.

The items range from maple cheesecake to maple onion rolls to a maple beverage.

See accompanying list for this year’s winners. The Best of Show winner will not be announced until Saturday evening at the annual Maple Banquet.

Festival Contest Winners 2014

Maple Syrup Winners

  • Golden Maple – Bragg Farm, East Montpelier
  • Amber Maple – David Larock, Brandon
  • Dark Maple – Templeton Farm, Montpelier

Maple Product Winners

  • Maple Sugar Cakes – Glenn & Ruth Goodrich, Cabot
  • Maple Cream – Sugar Daddy Maple Products, Derby
  • Maple Fudge – Vt Maple Forest Products, Morrisville
  • Maple Granulated Sugar – Glenn & Ruth Goodrich, Cabot

Maple Cooking Contest

  • Cake – Jeanie Tomery, Essex Junction, Maple Cake with Salted Caramel Maple Salted
  • Pies and Other Deserts – Nancy Myers, Milton, Maple Syrup Fudge
  • Pickles, Preserves, Sauces and Dressings – Stephen Tetrault, Maple Habanero Barbecue Sauce
  • Bread – Patty Cross, Swanton, Maple Cinnamon Bread
  • Maple for the Health of It – Patty Cross, Swanton, Gluten Free Maple Cream Puffs
  • Youth Cook – Alaina Rogers, Fairfax, Maple Cake Pops