Just over two years ago, I visited the Girvan Early Growers with the legendary chefs Albert Roux OBE (pictured below), the late Andrew Fairle (at foot of page), who were in the West of Scotland to lend their support to the campaign to have Ayrshire Early Potatoes granted PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status by the EU. Hopes were high that this would happen by the end of June 2017, as final tweaks to the submission had been made on June 13 that year.
Anticipation was understandably keen, for if they were to gain PGI status Ayrshire Earlies would be on an equal footing with rival brand (earlier-harvested) Jersey Royals, and join 70 other UK food and drink products with PGI status, including 14 in Scotland - such as the Arbroath Smokie and Stornoway Black Pudding.
PGI status is given to regional food products across the EU that have a specific quality, reputation or other characteristic attributable to the area they’re grown or made in, and ensures they are legally protected from imitation throughout the EU. It can also help promote the product and the area they are grown in, thus encouraging food tourism. A PGI product can command premium price and it’s estimated that a PGI product sells more than twice the rate as a non-PGI product.
However, even back then there were fears their plans could be scuppered by Brexit because the PGI scheme is operated and controlled by the EU. There is - as yet - no equivalent protection scheme in the UK, raising fears that as part of the Brexit negotiations Brussels could drop its scheme for non-EU products currently being processed.
More than two years on from that memorable visit, Ayrshire Earlies - small, oval, thin-skinned Epicures - have finally been grantated PGI status. And, from Sunday (July 21), they will be available for the fist time in supermarkets across England as well as Scotland as specialist supplier Scotty Brand has secured a nationwide listing with 200 Asda stores for the deliciously short season, which runs from June until early September.
They are sent to Asda and other stockists in Scotland, such as Co-op, Lidl, Spar, Tesco and Waitrose, within as few as 24 hours from being lifting out of the Scottish soil. Scotty Brand expects to sell well over 1000 tonnes this season.
The original bid was supported by chef Albert Roux OBE, pictured above, who founded the double Michelin starred Le Gavroche in London’s Mayfair and has six restaurants in Scotland. On a visit to the Girvan Early Growers, where he tasted Scotty Brand’s Epicure and Casablanca new potatoes, he said: “I fully support PGI for Ayrshire Early potatoes. They are quite delicious and their provenance is unique. They should have equal status with Jersey Royals.”
And the late, great Andrew Fairlie added then: “We should be celebrating Scotland’s first potatoes when they come into season. I can remember as a child that Ayrshire Earlies coming into the shops was something to look forward to. Yet now they hardly get any attention compared to Jersey Royals.”
Ayrshire Earlies are the very first potatoes of the Scottish season, and are naturally small with a delicate skin. They are sold with the soil still on them in order to protect them. They are grown in four varieties - Epicure, Isle of Jura, Maris Peer and a new Casablanca variety for Scotty Brand – for Albert Bartlett and Scotty Brand. Their unique growing conditions include sandy soil close to the seashore, which together with the Gulf Stream ensure a warm, frost-free, environment. They have been growing here for over 100 years.
UK food products with PGI status are worth £1bn, of which the largest element is Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb.
Great news, then. But the big unanswered question is, of course: how much longer will Scottish - and English and Welsh - products enjoy EU protection if the scheme is withdrawn after Brexit? There are hopes that products that already have PGI status will continue to be protected. Let’s hope it’s not too late for Ayrshire Earlies to reap the benefits of their brand new status.
* See my original 2017 story on my website catedevinewriter.com (under Published Work).