CAMBRIDGE, Vt. — They call him the hardest working flatlander in Vermont.
Eric Sorkin is a lawyer by training and hails from New Jersey, but he’s becoming one of the kingpins of the Vermont maple industry, with 81,000 taps on the back side of Mt. Mansfield and an innovative retail business that’s taking maple into a new culinary realm, far beyond the jugs and tin.
“We’re shouting from the rooftops that you can do a lot more with this stuff,” he said. “It’s so unique. It’s so special.”
To give you an idea of where his thinking is at and what he says are maple’s limitless possibilities, he and his wife Laura, a chef, spent more than a year perfecting their latest concoction, Makrut Lime-leaf infused maple syrup.
“It’s great on flan,” he said during a recent tour of his operation for The Maple News.
(For those culinarily challenged, flan is an open, rimmed pastry with a spongy base.)
Another new one is Pecan Wood Smoked maple syrup.
The Sorkins went through countless different kinds of wood to perfect the smoking process before finally settling on the pecan tree, which they truck to Vermont from Texas. And the resulting product is remarkable. You can sense and taste the perfection.
“It blooms in your mouth,” he said.
He recommends using the syrup with cheeses or on top of apple pie.
The Sorkins are now boasting ten varieties of pure, barrel-aged, smoked, and infused maple syrup, including flavors like Hibuscus Flower, Cardamom and Elderberry.
All of it is marketed under the name Runamok Maple. And sales have been through the roof.
“We are opening the market up,” he said. “It feels like maple is waking up.”
When Oprah Winfrey’s magazine was about to do a major piece on the infused syrups this fall, Sorkin had a new bottling line up and running within a week, before the article even came out.
And their most recent move was announced last month. The Sorkins bought Bascom Maple Farms’ candy and cream division, which is based in Brattleboro, Vt.
The Bascom operation is the largest candy and cream operation in the country, and was founded in 1925 by the Coombs family before Bascom took it over 12 years ago.
The Sorkins will be marketing and developing their own brand of candy and cream there, but will also “white label” products generically that other sugarmakers can apply their information to and “private label” products.
Sorkin wouldn’t let on if flavor infused candies were on the way but hinted innovation was to come.
“There are a lot of opportunities to do original things with it,” Sorkin said of candy and cream, as he and Bruce Bascom announced the transaction at the Verona maple show in New York in early January.
Meanwhile, back at the 1,000 acre farm in Cambridge, Vt. outside the three story concrete bunker that functions as Sorkin’s sugarhouse, office and bottling plant, a crew of 12 men were getting ready to tap on January 9.
But Sorkin was planning to stay behind in the office, overseeing and selling. In fact Sorkin says he hasn’t been in the sugarbush in several years.
“It’s a little embarrassing,” he said. “But if you want to grow your business, you can’t do it from the field.”
Sorkin has put much of the production end of the business in the hands of Dave Parent, a local and his operations manager.
Eric and Laura have put plenty of sweat into the operation over the years, since starting up in 2009. After ditching their high profile careers in Washington, D.C., they migrated to Vermont to start a farm and get their hands dirty.
Sorkin admits he doesn’t have much of a green thumb. But he does have a knack for growing a business.
They started out with 28,000 taps and are now four times that size. They sell most of their bulk syrup to David Marvin at Butternut Farms in Morrisville, Vt.
He wasn’t shy when he first approached Marvin to take his syrup eight years ago.
“I told him ‘I’m Eric Flatlander and I’m going to make a lot of syrup.,’” Sorkin recounts. “He said he’d take everything we got.”
Things have not slowed down since.
In practically no time flat, the couple and their business has been the talk of the industry.
Sorkin credits Parent and the rest of the crew for much of the success of his operation.
“We’ve had the best crew,” he said. “I’ve had the best luck.”