Castaña de Galicia

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Castaña de Galicia

IGP ‘Castaña de Galicia’ is reserved for the nuts obtained from native Galician cultivars of the European chestnut tree (Castanea sativa, Mill.) intended for human consumption and sold fresh or frozen.

These cultivars include the whole set of local ecotypes arising from selections made by farmers over centuries in order to improve their productive and quality aspects, and their morphology and genetic specificity have been correctly described and identified compared with those in other production areas in Spain, Portugal and France. The cultivars are regarded as irreplaceable plant genetic resources in terms of safeguarding biological and genetic diversity, and have been described, in line with the legal definition, as ‘conservation varieties’.

The use of traditional chestnut cultivation techniques in Galicia has made it possible to select a uniform set of native cultivars on which the current fame and reputation of the Galician chestnut is based. The main distinguishing characteristics of the ‘Castaña de Galicia’ are:

  • thin, shiny brown pericarp,
  • thin episperm (membrane) which penetrates the seed slightly and is easily removed by peeling,
  • sweet taste and firm, non-floury texture,
  • moisture content of between 50 % and 60 % in the nut after harvesting,
  • the number of nuts per cupule is usually three or less,
  • average percentage of carbohydrates is 59,5 % (measured on dry matter), which is higher than in all the other production areas in Spain,
  • very low average percentages of splitting (4,5 %) and partitioning (2,1 %). Galician chestnuts have the lowest overall figure for both parameters compared with chestnuts from other Spanish production areas.

Having given the average figures which define Galician chestnuts, below is a list of the characteristics which nuts must have if they are to be protected by the IGP ‘Castaña de Galicia’ following harvesting:

  • minimum moisture content of 50 % and maximum moisture content of 60 %,
  • maximum percentage of partitioned nuts: 12 %,
  • minimum percentage of carbohydrates: 55 %,
  • maximum number of nuts per kilogram not greater than 120 in the case of fresh produce and 200 in the case of frozen produce.

Each container of IGP ‘Castaña de Galicia’ chestnuts may contain a maximum of 5 % of nuts which do not comply with the above requirements.

The freezing process is intended only to extend the product's conservation period and does not constitute processing in the strict meaning of the term, therefore the fresh and frozen nuts share the same physical, chemical and organoleptic characteristics mentioned above.

Specific rules concerning slicing, grating, packaging, etc

IGP ‘Castaña de Galicia’ chestnuts are sold in netting, raffia or sacking in the case of fresh chestnuts, and in the case of frozen chestnuts, in packaging designed for food use and authorised by current food legislation. In both cases, the permitted weights are 500 g, 1 kg, 2,5 kg, 5 kg, 10 kg, 15 kg, 20 kg and 25 kg. Other formats may be considered provided that they do not undermine product quality.

Specific rules concerning labelling

The packaging of chestnuts marketed under the IGP ‘Castaña de Galicia’ must bear the commercial label of the producer/packer and the specific label of the IGP with a sequential alphanumeric code, authorised by the inspection body, and the official logo of the Protected Geographical Indication. Both the commercial label and the specific label of the IGP must bear the words ‘Indicación Geográfica Protegida “Castaña de Galicia” ’.

The labels for processed products (such as chestnut purée, chestnut paste, chestnuts in syrup, chestnuts in alcohol, marrón glacé, marrón glacé sweets, etc.) may state that IGP ‘Castaña de Galicia’ chestnuts have been used in their preparation provided that the raw material complies with the requirements laid down in the Product Specification.

Concise definition of the geographical area

The geographical area of the Protected Geographical Indication ‘Castaña de Galicia’ includes the part of the Autonomous Community of Galicia which is bordered in the west by the Dorsal Gallega and in the north by the Sierra del Xistral. From the administrative point of view, the production area covers:

  • the Province of La Coruña: District of Terra de Melide and the municipalities of Arzúa and Boimorto (District of Arzúa),
  • the entire Province of Lugo, with the exception of the municipalities of O Vicedo, Viveiro, Xove and Cervo (District of Mariña Occidental), Burela and Foz (District of Mariña Central) and Barreiros and Ribadeo (District of Mariña Oriental),
  • all the municipalities of the Province of Ourense,
  • the Province of Pontevedra: Districts of Tabeirós-Terra de Montes and Deza, the municipalities of Cotobade, A Lama and Campo Lameiro (District of Pontevedra) and the municipality of Cuntis (District of Caldas)

The defined production area has optimum rainfall, temperature and soil conditions, altitudes and temperature/rainfall ratios for the cultivation of quality chestnuts.

Link with the geographical area

The defined geographical area enjoys favourable climatic conditions which ensure the proper cultivation and top quality of Galician chestnuts, such as moderate temperatures during growth and ripening and atmospheric humidity which permits a high moisture content in the nuts, characteristics which guarantee a top-class product.

The specific characteristics of the geographical area of the IGP which are directly related to the parameters considered optimal for chestnuts are described in more detail below:

  • rainfall: the production area has high rainfall with total annual precipitation of around 1 000 mm, but there are also dry summer periods which end in September. Both of these factors contribute to the quality of the chestnuts. The areas of Galicia closest to the coast, in which the parameters recommended for cultivation are exceeded, are excluded from this production area
  • temperature: the area has average annual temperatures of 6 °C-14 °C, which are within the limits recommended for chestnuts (3 °C-16 °C), with high summer temperatures which promote nut ripening and development
  • average temperature/rainfall ratios: the eastern half of Galicia has the more favourable average temperature/rainfall ratio for chestnuts, a species which develops better where there is a certain amount of atmospheric humidity, but which must under no circumstances be excessive as this would encourage the development of diseases such as ink disease and chestnut blight
  • altitude: the defined area lies at altitudes to which chestnut trees are best adapted (range of 400-900 m, but not above 1 200 m)
  • soils and lithology: the greater part of the area consists of soil on granite and metamorphic rocks (schists and shale), of loamy texture, rich in organic matter with low pH and a low active lime content, which is regarded as the most suitable type of soil for growing chestnuts.

Chestnut-growing is very valuable in environmental terms and is perfectly suited to the soil and climate conditions prevailing in the mountainou.2s and highland areas of the interior of Galicia, where it is the most competitive alternative crop. The way in which land use has developed over time (in favour of fast-growing timber species and crops such as maize and potatoes) has itself turned into a factor which has contributed to the delimitation of the area identified.

In addition to the specificity provided by appropriate soil and climate conditions in the production area, mentioned in the previous point, which result in optimal nut development, the production of Galician chestnuts is based on intensive selection work carried out over centuries by Galician farmers in the soutos (plantations consisting of trees of the same or similar age to which the same cultivation techniques are applied). Thus through the use of careful, traditional crop practices, the human factor has acted as a driving force in continuous varietal selection (based on productive and quality characteristics), producing a series of native ecotypes which have resulted in what has today become the high-quality Galician chestnut. This combination of factors is what has endowed this chestnut with the fame and prestige it enjoys today.

In addition to demonstrating the link with the culture and tradition of chestnut-growing in Galicia, the production model consisting of the soutos, still in use today, plays the important role of providing a source of plant material for use in new chestnut plantations to which modern cultivation techniques can be applied.

The characteristics which make the quality of Galician chestnuts special compared with chestnuts from other production areas include the following:

  • thin episperm, which makes it much easier to peel the nut
  • low percentage of partitioned nuts which, as in the previous point, has enormous influence in

terms of making the nut easy to peel

  • high moisture content, a much-appreciated factor both when consuming the nuts fresh and when

processing them

  • low percentage of splitting, which significantly reduces discards
  • very high starch content, which gives the chestnuts a sweeter taste following conversion (natural hydrolysis through ripening and hydrolysis induced by thermal processes) into sugars.

Chestnut trees have been growing wild in Galicia since the Pleistocene; they began to be domesticated and cultivated during the Roman occupation. New impetus was given later, in the Middle Ages, when the clergy and nobility promoted chestnut trees and expanded their cultivation, which was closely tied to vine-growing. Thus native varieties of high-quality chestnut trees have been selected and propagated since ancient times, with a generally good result as regards mixed timber/nut exploitation. In addition, the historically wide dispersion of the population in Galicia, which occupies practically the entire territory (coastal zones, central plateau, valleys and mountains), has encouraged the selection of many varieties with different environmental capacities, including excellent soil and climate adaptation with low partitioning, an adequate size, low level of splitting, etc.

The fact that the chestnut tree is perfectly adapted to the environmental conditions in the defined area (specific nature of the geographical area) already confers a high level of quality on the product, given the logical relationship between good development of a tree species and the production of quality nuts. Moreover, the moderate temperatures during growth and ripening of the chestnuts and the high atmospheric humidity of the production area give the nuts a high moisture content, which is appreciated both when the chestnuts are consumed fresh and when they are used as a raw material in processing.

The management techniques used in the soutos have traditionally constituted the basic production model for Galician chestnuts. As a result of this productive environment, chestnut trees have been gradually selected and domesticated by growers, based on productivity and quality, giving rise to the set of local ecotypes responsible for the native cultivars currently grown, on which the quality, reputation and fame of Galician chestnuts are based.

The prestige of Galician chestnuts is reflected in the good position they occupy on the market: it is usual to see chestnuts for sale on the Spanish market which come from elsewhere but are labelled as Galician, which is proof of their reputation. The following are just some of the bibliographical references on which the historic reputation of the Galician chestnut is founded:

  • the numerous documents kept in Galician monasteries referring to the importance of chestnuts in Galicia in the Middle Ages. These documents are referred to in various books including El priorato benedictino de San Vicenzo de Pombeiro y su colección diplomática en la Edad Media (the Benedictine priory of San Vicenzo de Pombeiro and its diplomatic collection from the Middle Ages) and El monasterio de S. Clodio do Ribeiro en la Edad Media: Estudio y Documentos (the monastery of S. Clodio do Ribeiro in the Middle Ages: research and documents) by M. Lucas Álvarez and P. Lucas Domínguez, and the Colección Diplomática do mosteiro cisterciense de Sta. María de Oseira (diplomatic collection of the Cistercian monastery of St Maria de Oseira) by M. Romaní Martínez
  • the mention by Alexandre Dumas in his novel From Paris to Cadiz, written in 1847, of the quality of Galician chestnuts
  • the fact that chestnut groves are regarded as one of the most important elements in the Galician agricultural landscape, referred to by Abel Bouhier in his book La Galice. Essai geographique d'analyse et d'interpretation d'un vieux complexe agraire
  • the many references to the fiesta del magosto (a popular feast to celebrate the chestnut, held in many parts of Galicia) such as, for instance, the mention of it by Manuel Murguía in his book Historia de Galicia (History of Galicia — 1865)
  • the fact that Galician chestnuts are used in recipes such as those collected by Manuel Puga y Parga (1874-1917) in his book La Cocina Práctica (Practical cooking — 1905), and the many dishes described by Álvaro Cunqueiro in La Cocina Gallega (Galician cooking — 1973).

Further indirect evidence of the widespread, prestige and reputation of Galician chestnuts can be found by examining the frequency of references on the Internet to Galician chestnuts compared with those from other places. A search on Google on 20 November 2008 for ‘castaña/s gallega/s’ (Galician chestnuts) and its equivalent in Galician (castaña/s galega/s) produced a total of 5 600 results, while a search for ‘castaña/s española/s’ (Spanish chestnuts) resulted in fewer than 200 hits. Not even twenty hits were obtained for chestnuts from other places (Asturias, Andalusia and Extremadura).

Reference: The European Commission

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