Fenland Celery joins the ranks of Stilton cheese as it is awarded protected name status by the European Commission

Fenland Celery

Fenland Celery - Credit: Archant

Growers of a specialist celery crop could be on the verge of reaping a money-spinning harvest, after the product secured a prized European mark of quality - putting it on a par with other foods such as Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Stilton cheese.

Fenland Celery

Fenland Celery - Credit: Archant

Fenland Celery has become the first vegetable product to secure the accolade, following a four-year campaign for this unique brand of heritage celery to be awarded protected food name status from the European Commission.

Fenland Celery

Fenland Celery - Credit: Archant

Specialist growers, G’s Fresh, of Barway, near Soham, started growing traditional Fenland celery in 2000 – and it joins the ranks of Britain’s protected food products worth an estimated £1bn.

It is the first Cambridgeshire food product and only the 55th in Britain to be granted PGI or Protected Geographical Indication status.

Former Defra minister, Sir Jim Paice, who is also MP for south-east Cambridgeshire, said yesterday: “Fenland celery is a unique food produced by traditional methods to create a ‘white stick’ of celery. I am delighted it has received PGI status; as the former minister responsible for awarding such statuses, or sometimes refusing it, I know how authentic a product must be to be designated.”

Another fan, Delia Smith, said that “Celery is as English as the Stilton cheese,” and it has exceptional flavour “particularly after a light frost, when it’s sweetest of all.”

Junior Defra food minister George Eustice, said: “Earning a protected food name for Fenland Celery is a real boost for East of England growers. They will now be able to trade the product with an authenticity guarantee that sets it apart from its competitors.”

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Fenland Celery, which has a unique nutty-sweet flavour because it is grown in the deep peaty soils was traditional only grown in small pockets in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. Once a Victorian artisan crop grown for harvest between October and December for the Christmas market, it has been revived by G’s, which has been growing celery in the Isle of Ely since the 1950s.

Anthony Gardiner, marketing director of G’s Fresh, said: “We brought Fenland celery back into commercial production in 2000, but it’s been difficult to convey to shoppers what makes it such a premium product.

“We hope that gaining PGI status will raise the profile of this heritage variety and draw attention both to what makes it so different and the special way it’s grown.

“There’s no doubt Fenland celery will always be a niche product. It is an extremely labour intensive crop with low yields because of the traditional way it’s farmed,” he added.

Fenland celery, which is a traditional Victorian winter variety, has become the first English vegetable to earn the PGI status from Brussels under Europe’s protected food name (PFN) scheme.

This heritage crop, which is being grown in the rich, deep soils around Ely, is also known as white celery thanks to its paler colour.

Matthew O’Callaghan, chairman of the UK Protected Food Names Association, said: “European Protected Food Names are a very important part of our food economy representing over £1bn in sales, they include most of Britain’s iconic food products and major exports.

It estimates that Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Stilton cheese alone provide an estimated £65m boost to sales and tourism in the Melton area of Leicestershire.

Fenland Celery is grown in wide rows, with deep trenches, and the soil is earthed up as it grows – protecting the crop from frost. As a result, the sticks are “blanched” and acquire more taste from the deep peaty soils.

The main variety of Fenland Celery, Dwarf White, was developed in the fens more than 100 years ago. It has a shorter stem and more leaf, which adds flavours in stock, soups and stews. It is harvested by hand using a specially shaped knife.

It will be available exclusively in Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.

Details - www.fenlandcelery.co.uk