During may and June of each year the Carpathian mountains in Romania blossom with wild flowers, pine and fir buds. This new growth is packed full of oil and when simmered slowly for a few hours with added sugar, fresh herbs and citrus fruits, creates a deliciously rich syrup, dark and tangy, aniseed and licorice, menthol and raisin. My lucky job is to taste test our annual production and bottle. Everything from picking, sorting, cooking to bottling and packing is done by hand by our family.
Its a hectic two months and the air gets very heady with the aroma of pine and fir – imagine a dense forest after heavy rain. The sun comes out and the air is full of that conifer smell you associate with mountain trails, camping, late nights cooking outdoors round the fire.
Once the syrup has reached the perfect density, sweetness and flavour, we let it sit in barrels to mature for a year at least, let nature work her magic, then bottle. The season is short, the conifer picking is limited, and the weather can affect the flavour of the finished syrup, due to rain levels, humidity and sun. As we try to keep the sugar levels to a minimum and not overcook the syrup, or it will taste burnt, the process is slow and each batch will vary accordingly. But its worth the time and the wait.
Unlike maples where sap can be tapped on an almost battery-hen like process, with many plantations now planted with the top-most branches of the maple removed, to fit more trees in a small space, the conifers we pick from are in their wild state. Bears and boars allowing, a small group of local farmers hand pick and we begin making the syrup as soon as we can. Conifers can be macerated in sugar, but the fresher the buds and cones the better the syrup.
The syrup is best described as a cross between a maple syrup and a balsamic vinegar. It works well with goats cheeses, with panna cotta, drizzled on sorbet or cheese cake, mixed wit balsamic to marinade salmon, as a pork or duck glaze to give a sweet finish, mixed with tonic for a cool summer drink with cherries and orange slices and mint.
visit us at www.ionsyrup.com to learn more about this unusual mountain syrup.