The Isle of Noirmoutier’s La Bonnotte Potatoes

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Noirmoutier is a french island famous for its La Bonnotte potatoes. They are the most expensive potatoes in the world. Farmers cultivate only around 100 tons of this top quality potato per year coming only from the island Noirmoutier.

Bonnotte potatoes
La Bonnotte Potatoes of Noirmoutier (F)

The cost of one kilogram can reach €500 (US $322 per pound). The potatoes normally sell for around €70 per kilo (US $45 per pound).

The cost is high because this type of potato is almost extinct and must be harvested by hand. The potato fields also require fertilization by seaweed in a climate shaped by the nearby sea.

The presence of algae and seaweed in the soil is responsible for the potato’s earthy and salty flavor. Because the variety is delicate and its tuber remains attached to its stem, the potato must be picked by hand and not torn.  To guarantee the quality of the product, fragile and delicate as it is, the Bonnotte must be picked one by one.

Where can I find Bonnotte potatoes?

The potatoes are generally served in top class restaurants in France and the Netherlands in mid-May. (Source: Wikipedia)

The best of the harvest is often sold at the Paris auction house Drouot at prices as high as $300 per pound. (Source: www.mashed.com)

La Bonnotte are the caviar of the potato world and are among the world’s most expensive foods. Along with white truffles, saffron, macadamia nuts and Beluga caviar.

However, farmers on the British Isle of Jersey are now also trying to cultivate the Bonnotte potatoes. Whether this lower-cost version has the same quality as those from Noirmoutier ?For the French there is a simple answer : absolument pas!

The history of the Bonnotte potatoe

Folkloristic harvesting the Bonnotte
Handpicking La Bonnotte potatoes

Although the bonnotte has made Noirmoutier’s reputation since its introduction on the island in the 1920s and 1930s (at that time it was called “bounotte”, “bonnette” or “bonnet”), this variety actually originated in Barfleur in the Manche département. However, as it is too fragile and requires harvesting by hand, it cannot cope with the effects of the mechanisation introduced in the 1960s and used for other potato varieties.

Its large-scale production was deemed unprofitable and was therefore stopped. The bonnotte is since then only found in a few gardens on the island.

It was in 1995 that the farmers of the island of Noirmoutier decided to bring it back to life, having never forgotten the one that had made them famous. That is why, 30 years later, they decided to resurrect the Bonnotte and put it back on the market. To meet its challenge, the Coopérative Agricole de Noirmoutier turned to the INRA in Brest, which, in its laboratories, has recreated this prestigious potato from the past in an identical way.

Harvest of Bonnotte potatoes
Harvesting the Bonnotte potatoes

Farmers in Noirmoutiers were thus able, as early as 1995, to plant the Bonnotte seed and, as in the past, to harvest it by hand. In 1996, the gold nugget returned to the market. It was declared the most expensive potato in the world at an auction in Drouot. Back in fashion, it has been given a new lease of life by consumers who are enthusiastic about its originality.

Characteristics

Small in size, round, with firm and tender flesh, keeping for only a few days, it is grown in very sandy soil, enriched with seaweed, gathered in parallel 70 cm wide mounds, a unique soil profiling technique, known as “billon”, to warm and drain the soil and give maximum aeration to the potatoes.

Fete de Bonnotte

The harvest of the potato takes place in two weeks in May from a cultivated area not bigger than 5 ha. It is harvested before just maturity at 90 days, generally among the first of the year sold, at the beginning of May, thanks to the island’s microclimate (Gulf Stream). The bonnotte is fragile, hand-picked and its production hardly exceeds 100 tons. Every year in the beginning of may there is a fair: la fête de la Bonnotte.

The first harvests are sometimes sold by auction and can reach very high prices: on 20 April 1996, during an auction at the Hotel Drouot in Paris, a lot of 5 kg of bonnottes was bought by a private individual for 15,000 francs (€500 per kilogram).

In 2011, even if the price of this potato of choice has normalized between 5 and 6 euros per kg, it remains the most expensive on the market. In 2012, it sold for more than €7 per 25 potatoes. It is nearly always already reserved for the next harvest.

The bonnotte usually sells in the second week of May. In order to keep its iodized taste, do not overcook it. It goes very well with shellfish, fish or meat in a salt crust.

Today, with its pronounced taste of fresh chestnut, it has become a universal ambassador for the island of Noirmoutier.

Other varieties from the same island

LA SIRTEMA

The post-war period marks the end of an era of hand work with the arrival of a new variety of early potato: the Sirtéma. It was immediately a great success. A round potato with white flesh and a sweet taste, it is the most famous of the varieties currently grown on the island of Noirmoutier. Many of the greatest restaurants use this variety as from April in their dishes.

The harvest starts on April 1 and continues well into June. Annual production is up to 4,500 t. The potato is cultivated in an area of 180 to 220 ha.

THE IODEA

The Iodea has been used in cardboard boxes for many years, and has made a name for itself thanks to its melt-in-the-mouth taste and sweetness.

Harvest from May 15 to June 10

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