Pembrokeshire Earlies

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Pembrokeshire Earlies

PGI Pembrokeshire Earlies is the name given to immature potatoes of the Solanum tuberosum species of the Solanaceae family. They must be planted, grown and harvested in the defined area, the county of Pembrokeshire in West Wales.

The potato is small in size (15-70 mm in diameter) is round or oval in shape with a soft skin and distinctive strong fresh, earthy, nutty flavour and aroma. It has a creamy texture and white to a light yellow colour which is consistent throughout the potato. The seed tubers are planted from mid February each year (but can be as early as late January on coastal frost-free land) and are harvested from the beginning of May until the end of July. This is much earlier than in other parts of Wales, as the warmer climate and fertile, free-working and free-draining soils in the designated area means that there is a lower risk of frost than elsewhere in inland Wales.

The unique qualities of ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ derive from the mild climate and unique soils of Pembrokeshire which enable the potatoes to be planted, grown and harvested early in the year. Their short growing season and freshness produces their fresh distinctive ‘earthy’ early potato flavour. The potatoes are sold either loose by weight or packaged in a range of weights according to customer requirements.

‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ must be planted, grown and harvested in the designated area, which is the county of Pembrokeshire.

The county of Pembrokeshire is situated in the western most point of Wales and is surrounded by the sea on three sides. Pembrokeshire benefits from the warmth generated by the sea which is warmed by the North Atlantic Drift of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is a warm current that keeps the western coast of Great Britain warmer than the eastern side. It is the warming effect of the sea and equitability of the climate which helps the Pembrokeshire soils warm earlier and make the county suitable for early potato production. The warming effect of the climate also minimises the risk of frost which is hugely beneficial in preventing damage to the emerging crop.

The soil and climate of the designated area underpin the reputation of ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’. It is these soil and climatic conditions that enable ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ to be grown and harvested early in the year. The short and early growing season produces a small potato with a fresh distinctive earthy taste and nutty aroma The geology of Pembrokeshire is that it is made up of immensely old rocks of Precambrian, Lower Palaeozoic and Upper Palaeozoic age and these rocks generate distinct soils. Most Pembrokeshire Earlies/Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes are grown in red sandstone soils on coastal south facing slopes which are inherently fertile, free working, free draining and they warm up quickly in the Spring. The temperate climate of Pembrokeshire and fertile soils allow a mean growing season of 9 months which is longer and earlier than other counties of Wales. The land is stony and although larger stones may be removed to minimise tuber damage, the remaining smaller stones help the soil to warm up by retaining field heat overnight.

‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ are characterised and valued by their distinct appearance and flavour. Their reputation and demand is underpinned by the fact that they are the earliest potatoes available in Wales and they have a distinctive, appearance, flavour and consistency.

During the soil preparation process, smaller stones are retained in the ground to assist the warming of the soil, when soil temperatures approach 10 °C, the soil is power harrowed to further break it down to make it as fine and free draining as possible. The soil is pushed up into shallow drills and the potatoes are planted by hand or by machine. To achieve quick growth, the seed is planted under approximately 75 mm of soil with the same amount of soil underneath. These shallow drills enable quicker heating of the soil and allow swift emergence. The small size of ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ at harvest, require shallow drills.

When harvested, ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ are small in size, due to their young age when harvested. They have a distinctive fresh strong earthy nutty flavour and aroma. During the first two weeks of harvesting, the skin of the potatoes is soft and delicate and requires delicate handling. The potatoes are hand-picked and sold with the soil on to minimise damage. As the season progresses the skin of the potato hardens sufficiently to allow careful machine harvesting but the young soft nature of the potato necessitates that machine harvesting must always be carried out with great care.

‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ are well established and widely recognised by the food industry both in the United Kingdom and worldwide. As a quality product, it is used by many top chefs and gastronomes and it regularly appears as a named product on their menus. Many renowned restaurateurs and agri-food businesses have demonstrated their preference for this early potato.

The reputation and demand for ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ is that they are the earliest potatoes available in Wales and they have a distinct strong fresh, earthy, nutty flavour and aroma. The climate of the designated area and the fertile free-working, free-draining, stony soils means that the soils warm up quicker enabling Pembrokeshire to have the earliest and longest growing season in Wales. This enables ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ to be planted, grown and harvested earlier than anywhere else in inland Wales. The ability to harvest ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ at such a young age means that their organoleptic properties are qualitatively different from those of mature tubers.

Growers of ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ have an innate knowledge of local characteristics and particular skills associated with growing these early potatoes. These are specific to the area and crop, have been developed over the years and handed down from one generation to the next. Soil preparation is important with often small stones being left in the soil to aid warming and it requires growers’ skill and experience to know when the chitted potatoes are at the optimum stage of development for planting. When to plant to maximise yields involves having a ‘feel’ and understanding of a combination of factors such as soil condition, soil temperature and the weather. In addition, when ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ are first harvested they are hand-picked (not mechanically harvested) and sold with soil on to protect the soft skin of the potato.

The history of the designated area is synonymous with early potato growing and highlights the economic and cultural importance of ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ to the county of Pembrokeshire. Redcliffe Salaman notes in his book ‘The History and Social influence of the potato’, that as far back as 1776 potato cultivation in Pembrokeshire was widespread. In the Second World War, a significant acreage of potatoes was grown in Pembrokeshire and the importance of growing Pembrokeshire early potatoes in the county has continued throughout the 1950s and remains to the present day. A Pembrokeshire Potato Marketing Group was established in the 1980s and in 1995 a processing plant was constructed which now grades and processes ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ for the multiple market.

‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ have a reputation of quality and are well established and highly recognised by the food industry locally in Pembrokeshire, in Wales, the United Kingdom and overseas. As a quality product, they are used by many top chefs and gastronomes and regularly appear as a named product on their menus as a regional speciality and although they can be served in a number of ways, the most popular being simply boiled when fresh with butter. Renowned restaurateurs and agri-food businesses have demonstrated their preference for these early potatoes. In 2009, ‘Pembrokeshire Earlies’/‘Pembrokeshire Early Potatoes’ were awarded several True Taste of Wales awards