Famous Potatoes

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:

Q: Why do potatoes make good detectives?

A: Because they keep their eyes peeled.

We kid, we kid. All jokes aside, there’s a new potato in town taking parts of Maine by storm. It’s called the Caribou Russet, a new variety of potato produced through the University of Maine’s breeding program. Now, after a long journey to the top of the heap, it’s exceeding expectations on its first release into the market.

“They’ve been flying out of here,” said Brenda (no last name given), a cook at Tradewinds Market in Brewer, one of 11 local markets now selling the new potato. “We just can’t keep them in here. I’ve tried them. They’re great for baking, mashed, fried, you name it.”

“We’re very happy campers,” said Don Flannery, the executive director of Maine’s Potato Board. “All potatoes have something that isn’t ideal, and certain characteristics everybody wants.” Those involved in the potato business are constantly seeking the perfect potato, he said—one that stands up to all kinds of cooking, grows well, is resistant to disease, and is consistently, aesthetically appealing.

The Caribou Russet is the result of at least 10 years of a research and development cycle that goes something like this:

The UMaine breeding program begins with upwards of 200,000 potato crosses. Over the course of seven to nine years, the numbers are whittled down to a few promising varieties. Those are sent to breeding programs around the country to see how they grow in different regions. Two or three finalists are chosen, from which investigators build up a seed supply and start growing trials in small, two- to three-foot plots. Finally, one variety is chosen for planting in 10- to 15-acre commercial trials.

The Caribou Russet potato is the most recent champion in this lengthy competition. Now, it’s going to market in open celebration of its Maine roots—today’s consumers like to know where a product is coming from, said Flannery: “They’re more apt to buy it if they can find it again.”

Now in its first retail run, you can find it at Tradewinds Markets in Blue Hill, Ellsworth, Clinton, Milo, Calais, Brewer, Eddington, Norridgewock, and Veazie; Whitney’s Family Supermarket in Corinth; and Danforth’s Down Home Supermarket in Hermon. Look for the five-pound brown paper bags with a vent on one side and bold, green lettering on the other that says CARIBOU RUSSET.  According to Flannery, you’ll begin to see them in larger supermarkets next fall.

For now, join the throng and find them in your local market, where they’re selling like crazy. “I don’t know how they’re getting advertised,” said Brenda, “but we have people coming in here just for the potatoes.”

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