The Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets uses a maple syrup grading system based on color. Maple syrup is divided into two major grades: Grade A and Grade B. Grade A is further broken down into three sub-grades:Fancy (or Light Amber), Medium Amber, and Dark Amber. Each grade has the same weight and sweetness (maple sugar content). The color and flavor varies by grade. Fancy Grade (light amber), is produced from the first-run maple sap harvested during early March and has a light color and delicate flavor
Tim Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center at the University of Vermont states that catching the first sap of the season is important because it “makes the best syrup.” Dr. Perkins has studied the records of maple syrup production over the last 40 years and found a fairly steady progression of the maple sugaring season moving earlier and earlier, and also getting shorter.
I've consulted many local sugarmakers and all agree that Fancy is their favorite grade. According to David Hartshorn, “it is like a fine wine in its intricacy and you can tell different orchards by the flavor of the syrup they produce much the same way wine vineyards can”. Easty Long claims, Fancy is his favorite because it has a “wonderful maple flavor, it’s a boutique flavor as it’s so delicate but not too delicate”.
I definitely prefer Fancy grade to all others because of its subtle nuances. To appreciate this grade you need to really taste it and take the time, like a good wine, to embrace the exquisite flavor. It's really interesting to taste test different sugarmaker's Fancy grade and do a taste comparison.
The value of Fancy grade maple syrup is best described in the book Sweet Days & Beyond by Burr Morse. As decribed by a fellow sugarmaker: "I'm a maple sugarmaker and I like fancy syrup, point blank. When I work at the maple booth at the fair every year; though, I give samples to lots a' folks. It's amazing how many of them say they prefer the darker grades. That's okay. In fact, that's great, as we need a market for all grades. You know, by the book (or Vermont sugarmakers), dark syrup grades are lower in quality, but if folks like them better, then it's high quality to them. "