The Le Maistres have been growing vegetables in the south-east corner of Jersey since 1841. Their farm, Master Farm, consists of around 900 vergées (that’s just over 160 hectares), growing a wide range of crops – but their real speciality is potatoes.
Jersey has a unique microclimate, with the highest recorded annual sunshine hours in the British Isles, and mild winters thanks to its position in the Gulf Stream. The Le Maistres’ farm, Master Farm, is also really well positioned – with steep, south-facing slopes, enjoying excellent sun exposure and drainage. All in all, it creates ideal conditions for growing the very best spuds.
Their most prized crop of the year is the very special Jersey Royal variety, famed for its paper-thin skin, waxy flesh, and sweet, nutty flavour. The variety is covered by a Protected Designation of Origin, and is grown exclusively by a small group of growers in Jersey.
“The Jersey Royal has been a protected variety since the 1800s, when a farmer here came across an unusual potato of the International Kidney variety, which had five ‘eyes’ in different places. He planted it, and the resulting crop was the first of the Jersey Royals,” says Matt Le Maistre. His family were the first to grow genuine Jersey Royal potatoes organically.
Such steep land might benefit the potatoes, but it doesn’t make things easy on farmers. The fields are too steep for machinery, so the Le Maistres must use traditional methods:
“Jersey Royals are grown using unique and traditional methods, on steep slopes known as ‘côtils’ (pronounced coteeze),” Matt says. “We prep the fields using a winch, which hangs off a tractor that is positioned at the top of the slope, and we use a very old horse plough to carefully plough the fields.”
“Planting and harvesting are all done by hand, but other than that these winches are used to lower down machinery that has been used on Jersey for hundreds of years. For the really small fields, we have a little hand digger so it’s nice and gentle. The job is extremely labour intensive.”
It’s not all about Jersey Royals; the Le Maistres also grow plenty of other potato varieties across the seasons, all benefiting from the rich soil and slow growth on their sunny slopes.
“What we’ve found is our potatoes, whether Jersey Royals or new potatoes, do taste different,” says Matt. “Whether it’s the soil, or the fact that every field is close to the sea; on an island that’s nine by five miles, you can’t get far from it!”