In the wee hours of the morning in the early spring, when the dew is still hanging over the cold ground like a blanket and the whole of West Friesland is still asleep, the house lights in Opperdoes and the surrounding area are already on. Armed with a spading fork and a potato crate, young and old get down on their knees to dig the greatest treasure of Opperdoes from the earth with the utmost care. They drag the potato crate with them across the field, until it is full and the next row is started in good spirits. The world is slowly awakening. The cars are driving beside the dike and the fishermen are calmly and contentedly sailing their boats down the dike canal in the hope of catching some fish. The harvesters do not have much time to pay attention to this. At the end of the day, when the harvest has finished, all the crates are loaded onto a flat wagon and driven off the land very carefully. The first Opperdoezer Ronde are ready and from here every potato finds its way to supermarkets, shops or just the old-fashioned way: in a box beside the road, before this tasty little potato ends up on your plate in countless variations.
The potato has a long history and is now world famous, but initially it had a difficult start.
When it was discovered in the sixteenth century that the potato would grow in almost any climate and was easy to cultivate, it was hailed as the solution for the many famines in Europe. However, people thought the potato was tasteless and at that time probably had no idea what you could do with it.
Two centuries later, the potato was mainly used as pig food and to feed the poor. During the nineteenth century, the potato finally got the recognition it deserved and for years it was impossible to imagine cooking without it. At that time, traditional Dutch cuisine mainly consisted of potatoes, such as our vegetable mashes and a piece of meat, vegetables and yes, potatoes and gravy.
But if you think that a potato is only ever a potato, then you’re wrong! That’s because there are potatoes and then there’s the Opperdoezer Ronde.
The Opperdoezer Ronde is a traditional potato that is unmistakable thanks to its oval shape and delicate, yellow skin. Despite the fact that the Opperdoezer Ronde is a potato variety that is exclusively grown in the sandy soil of the West Frisian village of Opperdoes, this little spud is known nationally and for good reason. This tiny culinary potato, discovered by accident around 1865, has been dubbed a true delicacy by foodies. The days when the potato was primarily cooked or fried have long since gone. This fine little potato, which is rich in vitamins, has been praised by Dutch households, chefs and even the Royal Family. This is partly due to its low starch content, creamy taste and its versatility in the kitchen.
Koos Zwaan, a young grower from Opperdoes, has an unprecedented knowledge of the versatility of the local potato. This information was figuratively and literally spoon-fed to him when he was a child. Just like his grandfather and his father, Koos also has a heart for this special potato. In addition to the grower, Koos, like all other growers, is a member of the growers' association which guarantees the protection of the Opperdoezer Ronde.
Koos: “It’s hard graft in the summer months. More than twelve hours a day is by no means an exception. It’s fantastic to see how these potatoes are grown with so much love. It starts with planting in mid-March and each time you realize what a beautiful product you’re working on. Unlike other potatoes that often require at least four months, Opperdoezer Ronde can be harvested after nine weeks. At that time, you’ll see vast fields of green with beautiful plants and yes, it makes me very proud. We are proud to be able to offer you a beautiful traditional potato year after year. The soil, the taste and the craftsmanship. That's what it's all about."
We harvest very carefully by hand. The skin of this little potato is very fragile and should obviously not be broken. You’ll notice the advantage of a fragile skin in the kitchen when you cook the Opperdoezer Ronde. Let these potatoes soak for a while and the skin will come right off. Or eat them with the skin on, which is also very tasty and saves a lot of "scraping".
In addition to growing the Opperdoezer Ronde, Koos has also been committed to putting this unique potato on the map for two years, which is not always easy.
Koos: 'It’s now a thing of the past for Dutch households to mainly eat traditional Dutch potato dishes. Nowadays, there is so much availability and so much variety on the menu that the potato has lost its popularity. As a promoter of the Opperdoezer Ronde I have to work even harder to market the potato at this time. I also use social media a lot and it is important to maintain excellent contact with the supermarkets. We have also been on various TV programs several times, which is naturally good for promotion and really enjoyable.
Moreover, the agricultural sector is a vulnerable sector. Besides the fact that it is hard work, there is often no follow-up and companies are not taken over, which is a real shame."
Despite this, the Opperdoezer Ronde is doing well. The picturesque town of Opperdoes cultivates no less than two million potatoes a year. That is a lot and is also a good thing, because this quirky potato with a protected status certainly needs to be cherished.
Koos hopes that the potato will be passed on from family to family, in whatever variation. "Then we’ll also be able to earn a good living," he says.
So how does he prefer to eat the potato? Cook as normal and then dip into a bowl with some warm butter. It can be that simple.