Belfast Telegraph

Comber spud to take its place alongside Champagne and Stilton

The humble Comber spud is about to join the ranks of the world’s most distinctive foods — the likes of Champagne wine, Stilton cheese and Prosciutto Toscano.

We all knew our Comber earlies were something rather special, but by this time next year it will be official.

By law, no-one will be able to market their spuds as new season Comber potatoes unless they have actually been harvested from the fields around Comber.

An application by Northern Ireland potato farmers to register ‘New Season Comber potatoes’ as a Protected Geographical Indicator (PGI Status) is now into its final stages.

The Ulster Farmers Union potato committee and the Northern Ireland Potato Stakeholder Forum first had to put their case to the Department of Agriculture and then make their bid to Defra. Now the final part of the process sees them making their case to the European Commission.

So far the going is looking good, and potato farmers are hoping the PGI should be in place by the time the Comber earlies are harvested in late spring 2011.

It would bring the Comber earlies into line with their famous Channel Island counterparts — the Jersey Royals, which have already won protected status. Armagh Bramley apples are also in the process of gaining PGI status.

UFU potato chairman Robin McKee said: “The reputation and demand for Comber potatoes is underpinned by the fact that they are the earliest potatoes available and have a unique flavour and consistency.

“This is due to the climate of the designated area and ultimately means that the growing season can start before potatoes in the rest of Northern Ireland and can be harvested earlier.

“As the name ‘Comber potato’ is associated with quality and unique flavour, it is important that it is controlled by the producers. This prevents the possibility of others masquerading their products as the ‘Comber spud’ and potentially ruining its reputation.”

Only potatoes grown in the former Hamilton Montgomery lands would pass muster — that is Ards Borough Council as far south as Ardkeen on the Ards peninsula and Crossgar and Killyleagh on the western side of Strangford, North Down Borough Council and the parts of Castlereagh, Belfast and Down District Councils that lie to the east of the A7 road between Carryduff and Killyleagh.

The application describes Comber earlies as having a distinctive earthy, sweet and nutty flavour.

Due to the protection of the Ards peninsula and the Mourne Mountains, the climate is generally warmer than elsewhere in Northern Ireland, while Strangford Lough has a powerful moderating effect on winter weather, making it milder with warmer soil

Celebrity chef Danny Millar was cited in the application paying tribute to the Comber early, saying: “I use Comber potatoes in my restaurant as they have a unique taste and quality which speaks for itself.”

And they've also won the praise of Strangford MP Jim Shannon, who said: “Growing up in this area I always remember the excitement around the time of the year that the new potatoes were being harvested. For me a plate of new potatoes with of butter was just lovely.”

Many of the farmers lost crops of Comber earlies during a harsh winter and the first harvest has come unusually late, but Mr McKee says the new season potatoes are of the usual high quality.

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