French potatoes : as many qualities as varieties.06-04-2017
More than 250 varieties of French potatoes: visually appealing, stunning colours and grown to the highest standards.
Chips, crisps and even mash, potatoes are in high demand in France, with 52kg consumed per person every year. Which is just as well, as France has a diverse offer to suit every culinary need. Spring marks high season for planting, when thousands of seed potatoes will be planted, yielding a delicious crop of potatoes in the autumn.
France is well known throughout the world for the diversity of its production, with more than 250 varieties grown on French soils.
French production: different varieties for different markets
It is worth distinguishing the different types of usage according to production. Firstly, “ware” potatoes, or “raw” potatoes, are packed in bags to cook and eat at home. Other potatoes are intended for processing, mainly for frozen chips, mash and crisps. Finally, new potatoes are highly specialised and have a particularly fresh flavour. Available at the start of the season, they must be sold every year by 15th August. According to research carried out by UNPT–CNIPT* and Agreste data, France produced 5,106,500 tonnes of potatoes in 2016, (not including new potatoes), making France one of Europe’s largest producers, second only to Germany.
French potatoes look as good as they taste
France’s reputation for quality potatoes is well-known throughout the world, and when it comes to ware potatoes, France is the world’s leading exporter. “Exports have risen significantly since the beginning of the 90s, reaching sales of 2.3 million tonnes”, explains Francois Xavier Broutin, representative of the National Union of Potato Growers (UNPT). Demand for raw potatoes is at its highest in southern and eastern Europe, while northern Europe imports French potatoes for processing. Partners abroad appreciate their aesthetic appeal, and it is no secret that French potatoes have earned a reputation for their attractive appearance. The healthy condition of French soils plays an important role, in export markets too, while the sheer range of varieties produced in France receives great praise.
“Potatoes can be produced for every usage, which places us in an extremely advantageous position to conquer different markets according to their individual needs”, points put Francois Xavier Broutin.
Traditionally, Spain, Italy and Portugal were the largest importers of ware potatoes. Belgium, however, is now the largest market for French potatoes, supplying processors essentially for chips.
On trend: blue-fleshed potatoes
The potato industry focuses strongly on culinary segmentation. “When you buy potatoes, knowing what a particular variety does best is key; whether it’s chipping, mashing or gratin,” explains Francois Xavier Broutin. Five years ago, this trend simply did not exist, and this way consumers can be more targeted in their purchasing. For chefs, the latest trend is resurrecting heirloom, or forgotten varieties.
“Blue or purple-fleshed varieties are bang on trend. Vitelotte purple potato purée has the advantage of also looking great on the plate. We are noticing an increased amount of Vitelotte chips in retail too”, points out Francois Xavier Broutin
A return to more authentic flavours and different colours, are the two main trends in eating habits.
A few names to look out for:
Firm-fleshed “waxy” potatoes: Charlotte, Amandine, Franceline and Cherie
Tender-fleshed “floury” potatoes: Agatha, Marabel, Mona Lisa and Caesar
Potatoes suitable for chipping: Fontane, Markies and Bintje
Ré gnocchi and langoustines
A recipe for Retaise new potatoes
Serves 2 :
- 8 Ile de Ré AOP potatoes
- 500g langoustines from la Cotinière (Ile de Ré) calibre 10/15
- Garlic, parsley, fleur de sel (ideally from Ile de Ré), Espelette pepper
- 1 knob salted butter, 1 egg, chopped chives
- Flour to dust
- A dash of fresh single cream
Boil the potatoes in their skins in a pan. Drain, scrape the skins, add a dash of cream and mash well with a fork.
To prepare the langoustines, snap off the tails, cut carefully down the middle using a sharp knife and remove the vein. Take the flesh from the shell and brown in a hot frying pan in a knob of butter. Set the pan and juices aside for later use.
When cooked, blitz the langoustines in a food processor and add them to the mash. Beat the egg with a fork and add to the potato and langoustine mixture. Sprinkle a bowl with flour, transfer the potato mixture and knead well until it forms a dough ball that no longer sticks to your fingers.
On a chopping board sprinkled with flour, roll the dough into a 1.5cm wide rope and cut into small 3cm pieces. Using a fork, press the gnocchi to make ridges.
When ready, plunge the gnocchi in a large pot of salted, boiling water, for a few minutes, until they float to the top. Drain well and transfer to the frying pan previously used for the langoustines. Toss in the pan until golden brown, transfer to a dish and sprinkle with fleur de sel, a pinch of Espelette pepper and chopped chives.