Monterey celebrates maple syrup with festivalPublished 12:29pm Saturday, March 9, 2013
By Chuck Lilley/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Nestled at the base of Jack and Monterey Mountains in Highland County, lies Virginia’s “Little Switzerland,” the small town of Monterey. I recently discovered this scenic wonderland, which borders on the famous Shenandoah Valley. For Tidewater News readers in search of a low-cost, family outing or a couple in need of a weekend retreat, you are in luck. On March 9-10 and March 16-17, Monterey showcases its version of Franklin’s Fall Festival, the 55th annual Highland County Maple Syrup Festival.
The annual event is sponsored by Monterey’s Chamber of Commerce whose members have traditionally introduced weekend visitors to friendly, small-town mountain charm. A kick-off pancake breakfast is followed at noon by bluegrass band performances and area dance cloggers. Throughout the day local vendors and shopkeepers line downtown streets with displays of hand-made crafts, woodworks and the county’s famous maple syrup. Craft shows and activities for children are either free or charge $2 for one-day admissions.
Tasty lunches and late-afternoon dinners of area trout, pork barbecue, hamburgers, hotdogs, corn bread, brown beans and ham are inexpensive and sold with baked goods of homemade pies, cakes, old-fashioned apple butter, jams and jellies.
The sweet aroma from maple-cooked kettle corn permeates the fresh mountain air.
Virginia is steadily gaining ground on Vermont as a leading producer of maple syrup. Highland County has taken advantage of abundant “sugar bushes” (maple stands), and is now at the center of the steady growth.
Family-owned syrup camps, such as Laurel Fork Sapsuckers, dot the surrounding hillsides during the festival and provide guided walking tours of their operations. These informative tours include views of sugar orchards and methods of sugar water collection. The finished product is either sold at on-site country stores or in downtown Monterey or nearby McDowell.
For a most entertaining tour and exposure to old-fashioned maple syrup production, I would highly recommend the short drive to the farm of Tim Duff just outside of Monterey. Tim is the sheriff of Highland County, and as a youth was required to help his dad regularly make maple syrup. During the intense eight- or nine-week annual syrup production cycle, Tim, his wife Terry and adult son Sean, work daily from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. Their labor-intensive process has recently piqued interest from Colonial Williamsburg as it incorporates tin collection containers, a knee-high brick blast furnace, a cast-iron cooker, cooked eggs for filtration, and the addition of simple cream for process efficiency. The bottled product and process is routinely inspected by members of the Virginia state health department in Richmond.
From Tim I learned that 43 gallons of sugar water at a targeted two percent consistency are required to produce one gallon of maple syrup.
Tim also passed along to potential visitors his assurance that the mountain roads within Highland County are among the best maintained throughout Virginia by VDOT in the event of inclement weather.
Should you decide to make the four-hour drive from Franklin to visit Monterey during the upcoming weekends, and are in need of accommodations, the downtown Highland Inn is a popular landmark. Check the weather forecast, and if the coast is clear, “head for the hills.” You will not be disappointed.