The Jersey Royal potato has been grown for over 130 years on Jersey. There are around 20 farmers on Jersey that grow these potatoes, many of these focus solely on growing the Jersey Royal. The Jersey Royal is the biggest produce export from Jersey, with over 99% being sent to the U.K. Like Cornish clotted cream and the Cornish pasty, Jersey Royals are covered by a Protected Designation of Origin, under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union.
Jersey Royal production.
The history of the Jersey Royal dates back to around 1880 when a Jersey farmer named Hugh de la Haye, planted a large potato that he had bought. The potato had “15 eyes” which were planted in a steep slopped field above the Bellozanne valley. From one of these plants grew kidney shaped potatoes that had a paper-thin skin. This potato was originally named the Jersey Royal Fluke, which was later shortened to Jersey Royal.
The soil in Jersey is well drained and light, many local farmers use a seaweed harvested from the surrounding beaches as a natural fertilizer (known as Vraic). The practice of using seaweed as a fertilizer dates back to the 12th century. Production begins in November when they are planted in glass houses. The main outdoor crop are planted between January and April. Like many treasured seasonal products such as strawberries and asparagus, the Jersey Royal is only available for a relatively short period. The harvesting of this starts in late March and ends in July. During the peak season (May) up to 1500 tonnes of Jersey Royals are exported daily.
The harvesting of the Jersey Royal is very labour intensive, which is reflected in the price. The fields that the majority of the potatoes are planted in are so steep that most of the crop have to be hand lifted. They are then checked twice by workers and quality controllers prior to being loaded into temperature controlled vehicles for export. To ensure that customers receive the finest, freshest product this happens daily with many workers working 12 hour shifts.
Eating Jersey Royal potatoes.
The Jersey Royal is famous for it’s kidney like shape. The texture of the Royal is waxy which makes this variety perfect for salads. It holds its shape well after being cooked and has a delicate nutty/earthy flavour. The skin of the potato is very thin and after cooking can easily be rubbed off with just your thumb. The skin however contains much of the potatoes vitamin C and holds their flavour. It is often recommended to boil the potatoes with mint as it compliments the flavour. For a really interesting seasonal dish why not try them with wild garlic and slow cooked tomatoes.
Although rarely available outside of Jersey, a local favourite is the Chat. During the harvest of these potatoes many farmers and market stalls will sell potatoes that are too small to class as Jersey Royals. These potatoes which are the size of pebbles, have an even more intense Jersey Royal flavour.