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Tuesday 28 February 2017

Jersey #theislandbreak - Jersey Royals, Cows and Much More!

For an island of 45 square miles, Jersey really packs a punch – on a recent trip to the island I came to discover a place with fascinating history, great natural beauty, and one of few places in the UK with such a concentration of top quality produce – think Jersey royals, Jersey cows’ milk, Jersey oysters and lobsters, and more!

I have written about some of the great meals I had and restaurants I visited during this trip in an earlier post which you can see here, but today I would like to share some of Jersey’s fantastic local produce and the people behind them I was lucky enough to meet. 

The Big 4 

Jersey is home to a plethora of fine agricultural products and seafood, but four ingredients are the cornerstones of the island’s reputation for excellence. 

Jersey Oysters

With its huge tidal range and some of the cleanest seawater in Europe, Jersey is the perfect place to farm high quality oysters. The Island’s fast-changing and nutrient-rich waters provide an abundance of food which allows filter-feeding oysters to grow quickly and obtain a clean, fresh flavour. Over the two years it takes to cultivate an oyster, its development is closely monitored to ensure its purity, cleanliness and succulent taste. 

My first taste of Jersey oysters was at Faulkner Fisheries, where I met owner Shaun Faulkner. Nestled inside an old WW2 German bunker at L’Etacq in St Ouen, Faulkner Fisheries is the supplier of fresh seafood to Mark Jordan from Ocean, at The Atlantic Hotel reviewed here

The various rooms of the German bunker were turned into a series of tanks where the live local shellfish are stored including lobster, crab and spider crab, oysters and more. The tanks are filled with continuously flowing seawater to keep the produce in peak condition. 

Faulkner Fisheries also has a shop where locals and visitors can take home fish to enjoy with a bottle of wine, which is also sold on the premises.

In the warmer months, Faulkner Fisheries offers their famous seafood barbecue, which I hear is the place to be for the best grilled seafood on the island. I will need to return in summer to experience that, but on this visit, in early November, I got to try their famous oysters.

Smaller than the more familiar rock (Pacific) oysters, Jersey oysters have a greater concentration of flavour, seaweed and flinty mineral. 

If you haven’t tried Jersey oysters, I urge you to - without exaggeration, they are the tastiest oysters I have eaten. With 80% of all Jersey’s seafood sold to France, if you find them on a British menu, you will be in for a treat. 

Jersey Lobsters

Jersey’s coast and seabed is mostly rock, creating many hiding places for lobster to grow and feed in safety. Clear, shallow waters coupled with strong sunshine and a large tidal range also combine to provide an ideal marine environment. 

I had the opportunity to try the Jersey lobsters during a lunch at Mark Jordan on the Beach, you can read the review here. Slightly smaller than their Canadian counterpart, and perhaps because they are sustainably sourced at the peak of maturity, it had a deliciously firmer, sweeter and meatier flesh than other lobsters I have tried. 

Jersey Royals

For many, the first Jersey Royal marks the arrival of spring so it is no surprise that the island’s iconic tuber is one of the most longed-for seasonal foods and its principal agricultural export. 

Besides being unique to Jersey, the Jersey Royal enjoys EU ‘Protection of Designation of Origin’ (PDO) status in the same way that Champagne can only be produced in the French region bearing its name. In the other words, Jersey Royals can only come from Jersey. 

The variety has been grown for over 130 years on the island, since around 1880. Today, the Jersey Royal accounts for over 70 per cent of all produce grown in the island, yet despite being farmed on an industrial scale, many traditional methods are still used, such as using seaweed as natural fertilizer.

The Jersey soil is light and well drained and many farmers still use seaweed harvested from Jersey beaches as a natural fertilizer (it is known locally as Vraic). Jersey has some of the most formidable tidal flows in the world, and the strong movement of the sea deposits large quantities of vraic on the shore. The practice of using vraic on the land dates back to the 12th century.

The Jersey Royal season begins in November with planting under glass. The main outdoor crop is planted from January to April with harvesting from the end of March through to the July. 

As my visit was in early November, I was able to see some of the process of preparing for the coming year’s Jersey Royal crop with Christine Hellio at her farm, the Vinchelez. The selection and grading of the “mother” potatoes has to be done with great care, and they are packed upright and closely in boxes before being transported around the island for planting. 

However some of the restaurants on the island will serve Jersey Royals even in November, and this was my experience at Café Zephyr. Here I had a fantastic pan-roasted seabass, with tiger prawns, a rich lobster bisque, beurre blanc and Jersey royals. I wrote in more detail about this in my first posting on Jersey’s best eateries here.

At Christine’s Vinchelez Farm, I also saw my first honesty box. This is a common sight throughout the island, where farmers will place their produce for sale on the road or at the farm entrance, alongside an honesty box. I can’t see this taking off in London somehow!

Jersey Dairy

The Jersey cow in its current pure-bred form has been a feature of the Island’s landscape for more than 200 years. Renowned worldwide for its creamy, high quality milk, all Jersey cattle on the island are registered in the Jersey Herd Book, which was established in 1866 to guarantee the pedigree of the breed, much akin to Japanese Wagyu cattle. 

Today, there are around 4,000 Jersey cattle on the island, of which 3,000 are ‘in milk’, calving all year round to ensure regular supply of milk to the Jersey Dairy (formerly the Jersey Milk Marketing Board). This cooperative produces and markets Jersey dairy goods including milk, cream, ice cream, butter, cheese and yoghurt. 

It is illegal to import milk into Jersey, which helps to maintain an autonomous high quality dairy industry in the home of the famous breed. As might be expected, there is a reciprocal ban of imports of fresh Jersey milk from the island to the UK, so all the Jersey dairy you see on sale in your local supermarket is from Jersey cows farmed in the UK. It might be delicious, but it’s not the real McCoy. I was very surprised to learn this because I had always assumed that Jersey milk came from Jersey.

This ambiguity is an issue that has been tackled since the 2001 formation of the Genuine Jersey Products Association, which has created a system of authentication and a logo to certify genuine Jersey produce created on the island from dairy to agriculture to clothing. So look out for the symbol below if you want to purchase the genuine island article.

My experience of real Jersey Dairy was in the form of some excellent ice cream from MiniOti, in the company of the charming Anna Boletta, one of the founders of MiniOti. As parents, she and her business partner wanted to create a delicious but healthier ice cream for the whole family with no processed sugar or artificial sweeteners. 

They use stevia instead of refined sugar - a natural sweetener with zero calories, and up to 150 times sweeter than sugar, it is thought not to have the same harmful effects. In addition to having no refined sugars, the ice cream is probiotic, carrying live cultures which are thought to be beneficial to the intestinal tract, and is made from 100% Jersey milk and cream. 

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so how did they taste? They were delicious – all that Jersey milk made them luxuriously creamy, and I honestly could not tell the difference between sugar and Stevia in their ice cream. 

The Makers and Shakers of Jersey’s Artisan Produce 

During my short trip to Jersey, I visited a few other local producers, thanks to John Garton, Chief Executive of the Genuine Jersey Products Association (and weekend male model, but that story is for another day!) who drove me the length and breadth of the island to meet some of the makers and shakers of Jersey’s artisan produce

Many of these products are only available in Jersey, so as you plan your trip, make sure to find the time to try some of these at the island’s delis, restaurants and farmers’ markets during your stay.  

Liberation Brewery

One of these makers and shakers was Paul Hurley, the Beer Master from Liberation Brewery. It is Paul who creates all the blends, and decides the styles and flavours for all Liberation beers – not a bad job!

The brewery's beers are part of Jersey's rich history, and brewing has continued uninterrupted even during the First World War and the German Occupation from June 1940 to May 1945.

Liberation Brewery’s beers include Liberation Blonde and Ale, Ambrée, Noire (a stout beer), Rouge, and a Liberation IPA, among others. The brewery’s flagship cask ale, Liberation Ale, has picked up several international awards over the years. 

Paul gave me a brief introduction to what goes into the making of their beers, the different types of malt and hops, and the whole brewing process, finishing with a tasting. 

Visits and tastings are open to the public, and for full details, see Liberation Brewery's address and website details in the Travel Essentials section below.   

Fresh Fish Co

No self-respecting foodie’s trip to Jersey is complete without a visit to Fresh Fish Co. There I met the owner Vikki who has a real passion for the fish, seafood and produce of Jersey, and her shop is a testament to that love. 

You will find everything there from the freshest fish to Jersey’s own sea salt, honey, artisan bread, salted caramel sauce and many other kinds of yumminess. I spent a lot of time going through the shelves of her shop in awe – it’s a real gourmand’s paradise.

Vicki also prepares a lot of food to order, and on the busy Sunday morning I was visiting, a steady stream of customers (all of whom she knew by name) came in to collect magnificent seafood platters, coquille St Jacques, salmon en croute, crab and fish cakes, all ready for the oven or table. 

I highly recommend a visit to Fresh Fish Co in St Helier, and if you do, say hello to Vicki for a crash course in Jersey’s finest. 

Heritage Jersey Apple Tree and Press 

Hans Van Oordt worked as a garden designer in Jersey for many years before deciding to move into apple farming and making fresh apple juice from Jersey heritage apples. 

A few years ago he became aware that there were very few orchards on the island with traditional Jersey apple varieties. Since Jersey was once famed for its apples, this seemed an unfortunate state of affairs. 

His interest in Jersey apples coincided with the growth in the popularity of small-scale craft cider making. And so, not wanting to see the loss of many ancient varieties unique to Jersey, he started propagating and selling them. 

Heritage Jersey Apple Press had its first crop in 2014, after years of painstaking work and slow maturing of the trees. This was when they launched their brand new pressed apple juice products. 

They make three types of pressed apple juice – there is an Early Season Pressing, a Mid Season Pressing and a Late Season Pressing. 

Hans explained to me that all the varieties are different in taste and colour: “One of the joys of apples is their variety. As the season unfolds, different apple varieties strike different notes of sweetness, acidity, flavour and aroma” he told me. Hans’ pressed apple juice is a blend of traditional Jersey varieties, as well as others, and the composition of each batch changes as the season progresses.

I was there to see Hans pressing a batch of apples for juice. All the juice is made from squeaky clean handpicked apples with no sugar or sweetener added, macerated then the juice gently extracted using a bladder press of the type used for making Beaujolais. It is 100% pure pressed apple juice with only some Vitamin C added to stop it from oxidising.

The juice is then gently pasteurised so it has a shelf life of 12 months, or 3 days once opened if kept refrigerated. I was there for the late harvest pressing, and the juice was tart, sweet and delicious.  

Meet Jon Hackett the Pig Farmer

At a time of life when the average person thinks about slowing down, Jon Hackett of Brooklands Farm retired from a successful career in the mortgage and investment business to develop his hobby and passion for life as a pig farmer. 

Today, more than a decade on, the family business has grown from keeping a few pigs into a thriving concern, with Jon’s wife, Jenny, and son, Jono, working alongside him and a professional butcher.

Brooklands Farm is tucked away at the end of Longfield Avenue – a residential estate - off Route des Gènets in St Brelade, with breathtaking views of the sea. However, the tell-tale signs are clearly visible from the main road where pigs and piglets contentedly graze and forage freely without a care in the world. 

I had a tour of Jon’s farmhouse overlooking St Brelade’s Bay, where the basement is dedicated to a butchery and commercial kitchen. Here I had the chance to try one of his fantastic pork pies.

Apart from visiting his farm, you can also try his produce at the famers’ market at the weekends, where he has a trailer with his trademark “Me and the Farmer” logo, serving up locally produced beef burgers, as well as pork ribs and sausages flavoured with local ingredients like Jersey lavender and black butter. 

Jersey War Tunnels

So, beyond the sandy beaches, stunning countryside and all the amazing food, what else is there to do in Jersey?

There are some unmissable attractions on the island including the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Jersey Museum, the La Mare Wine Estate, and the Jersey War Tunnels to name just a few. 

You may be surprised to learn that with only two days on the island, and with a hectic itinerary of meals, farm visits and tastings, I still managed to find time to explore the Jersey War Tunnels, and I’m so glad I did.  

Jersey War Tunnels is a poignant reminder of the German Occupation of Jersey During World War II. Dug deep into the hillside by forced workers, the tunnels bore witness to the cruelty of the Nazi regime. 

It is now home to a series of poignant exhibitions that detail Jersey’s occupation history from resistance, to starvation and eventual liberation. 

My Jersey #theislandbreak visit was sponsored by the Jersey Tourism Board, for more information about the island, please visit their website here. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site as always.

Travel Essentials

I flew from London Gatwick to Jersey with British Airways but EasyJet, Flybe and Blue Islands also fly to Jersey. The flight takes approximately 30 minutes. Jersey is also accessibly by sea from Poole and Portsmouth with Condor Ferries. Visit www.condorferries.co.uk or call 0845 609 1024 to find out more.

There are many hire car companies at St Helier Airport, and I would strongly recommend you rent a car – there is no other practicable way to get around the island unless you rely on taxis. I hired mine with Hertz, visit their website at www.hertzci.com  for more information.

With thanks to Sommerville Hotel for a very comfortable stay and the great views overlooking the quaint harbour village of St. Aubin.

Somerville Hotel
Mont Du Boulevard, St Aubin, Jersey

Genuine Jersey Products Association
I would like to thank John Garton of Genuine Jersey Products Association for his kindness showing me around his island and for introducing me to many of his association’s artisan members.

Faulkner Fisheries
The Vivier
La Grande Route Des Havres
St Ouen

Mark Jordan on the Beach
La Plage
La Route de la Haule, A1
St Peter

Didier & Christine Hellio of Vinchelez Farm
Manor Farm 
St Ouen 
JE3 2DB 

Café Zephyr
The Royal Yacht Hotel
St Helier
Channel Islands
T: +44 (0) 1534 720511

Minioti Ice Cream - Natasha Dowse & Anna Boletta
St Lawrence

Jersey Dairy
La Route de la Trinité

Liberation Brewery
Tregear House
Longueville Road
Les Varines
St Saviour

Fresh Fish Company
Unit 5 Victoria Pier
St Helier 

Heritage Jersey Apple Tree and Press - Hans Van Oordt
Field House
Rue du Feugerel, St John
JE3 4FX 

Brooklands Farm - Jon Hackett
Long¬eld Avenue 
La Route des Genets
St Brelade 
Jersey JE3 8EB

The Jersey War Tunnels 
Les Charrieres Malorey
St Lawrence

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