I've often wondered if it was just a marketing gimmick. I see them in the markets and supermarkets: carottes des sables. Carrots grown in sand. They are packed in paper-lined wooden crates and the carrots still have a good amount of sand clinging to them. The other carrots in the stores and markets, whether they are displayed loose in bins or sold in sealed plastic bags, have been washed so they are completely clean.
Those are the ones I usually buy, and I buy a lot of them because Walt and I really like carrots prepared all sorts of ways: grated and dressed with vinaigrette to make a salade de carottes râpées; cooked with a little water, some butter, and some sugar to make carottes glacées — glazed carrots; or with cream, as carottes à la crème. And carrots always go in stews, including bœuf bourguignon, coq au vin, and blanquette de veau.
The carottes des sables are normally the most expensive kind (along with carottes bio — organically grown ones). Yesterday I was in the supermarket and looking specifically for carrots. I always like to have some in the refrigerator. Besides, I was planning to make a stew. The store I found myself in was Ed, the "hard discount" market chain. And there I found two bins of carrots. There were washed carrots, and "sandy" carrots.
Which would you buy? Clean ones or dirty ones? When I looked at the prices, I saw that they were the same — 99 cents a kilogram. That's a standard price for carrots, though in winter they can be cheaper. Since I had never bought carottes des sables before, I got some of those. They are supposed to be better, even though they are a pain to wash. Who wants all that sand going down the kitchen drain?
It turns out that carottes des sables are more than dirty carrots. They are grown on the Normandy coast between the Mont Saint-Michel and the towns of Carteret and Cherbourg. They have a Label Rouge designation, meaning that they must come from that area and be grown according to precise methods. I think some are even A.O.C.
The soil along the coast near the towns and villages of Pirou, Créances, and Saint-Germain-sur-Ay is, obviously, sandy. It is also slightly salty, because it's close to the sea. The farmers use seaweed as a fertilizer, and the sea breeze brings salt spray to the fields. Carrots love sandy soil, and this environment supposedly gives them a distinct taste and texture. CHM and I visited this area 12 years ago, but we didn't pay attention to carrots. There are many châteaux and churches to visit there.
Wikipedia says (my translation of the French version): “The production methods practiced around Créances to grow carottes des sables make them to ordinary carrots what the lambs that graze on the salt-sprayed meadows near Mont Saint-Michel are to ordinary meat. These carrots are grown in sandy soil composed of river silt and benefit from a mild maritime climate, sea breezes, and salt spray. The are fertilized with local seaweed. All these factors give the carrots the taste of the sea, a deep orange color, and a tender heart” — in other words, the core is less fibrous than in other carrots.
Do they really taste better than other carrots? I'll find that out at noon today and report back. I'm cooking some in a white veal stew.