Now that spring is here, it’s time to hail the arrival of Jersey’s much-loved seasonal spud: a nutty potato with a buttery taste grown in seaweed fertilizer and cosseted in blankets in frosty weather. Picked to reach your fork from the field within 48 hours of harvesting, the Jersey Royal is recognized by foodies across the world as the ultimate seasonal potato.
“The soil conditions are really important in making Jersey Royals taste so delicious...The Jersey soil is light and well-drained and the crop receives plenty of Jersey sun.” Philip Le Maistre, a sixth generation grower who runs the farm at Les Pres Manor in Grouville alongside his son Philip and brother Peter.
Each year, as April approaches, the anticipation across Jersey is palpable as the Island prepares to welcome a brand new harvest of Jersey Royal potatoes. Thanks to fertile soils and sunny shores, Jersey Royal potatoes are ready in abundance from April to June when around 1,500 tonnes are shipped to greengrocers and restaurant kitchens every day. One of the few remaining seasonal vegetables, this premium produce is only available for four months of the year. This narrow window of Jersey Royal availability creates more than a little frisson of excitement - they are snapped up in a foodie fervour. For nothing compares to the delectable flavour of a Jersey Royal with its nutty taste, soft flaky skin and rich, creamy texture. But the unique taste and quality of Jersey Royals doesn’t just come from the potatoes; it comes from the love, experience and traditional techniques used by those who grow them - the dedication of Jersey farmers is compelling. Throughout the season, considerable tender care is taken at every stage of production, from the hand grading (into sizes) of the seed potatoes in early November to the attention to detail employed when planting in January on the sun-soaked côtils (steep slopes) of Jersey, overlooking the sea. Growers plant over 150,000,000 individual Jersey Royal seed potatoes by hand from January to March - if planted in a straight line this would loop the Earth’s circumference. Sound like back-breaking work? It would take one person 25 years to hand plant this amount of seed.
Once in the earth, Jersey Royals are treated like royalty by their growers who lovingly cover the potatoes in fleecy blankets to ensure they are protected from harsh frosts. Crops are hand fertilized with seaweed washed up and collected on the Jersey shores (vraic) – a technique dating back to the 12th century that gives the potato its distinct flavour. As the April season begins, the Jersey Royals are carefully hand-lifted from their light, well-drained soil beds as befitting a superior spud. Once harvested, they are checked twice by workers and quality controllers before being packed and loaded into refrigerated trailers for export. Harvesting, grading, packing and shipping is all done daily to ensure the Jersey Royals are at their freshest and finest when eaten. Delicious served as a side to spring lamb or as part of an asparagus salad, Jersey Royals bring that extra special touch to a spring-summer table whatever is on the menu. Nothing compares to a freshly cooked Jersey Royal served with a simple knob of butter - and that’s just the way they’ve been eaten on the Island for more than 130 years.
The Jersey Royal is a premium, branded potato and the only fresh fruit or vegetable in the United Kingdom to boast an EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, similar to that enjoyed by other products such as Champagne, Camembert cheese and Parma ham. The Jersey Royal brand is given this level of protection because of the unique way in which it is grown, cultivated and harvested. The PDO ensures that only Royals grown in Jersey can be called ‘Jersey Royal’ - if it doesn’t have a PDO it isn’t a true ‘Royal’!
Did you know?
A single farm worker can hand lift enough potatoes in one day to feed 280 people.
Jersey Royal potato fields make up around a third of Jersey’s landmass - roughly 5,500 football pitches.
At peak times in the season, a whopping 1,100 tonnes of Jersey Royals will be transported across to the UK daily.
It is a misconception that potatoes are fattening - fibre-rich Jersey Royals contain just 70 calories per 100g.
Farmer Hugo de La Haye discovered the Jersey Royal in 1880, but never became rich and famous because he shared his discovery with fellow farmers.
For lots of exciting Jersey recipe suggestions visit www.jerseyroyals.co.uk
Jersey Royal Potatoes are now available at Elizabeth Terminal from the Jersey Bean Company.