Our traditional shallot growing areas cover 150 hectares (370 acres) of light, sandy soils in eastern England: principally, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire. The shallot growing year starts at the end of the February in the UK, as soon as the soil starts to warm up and the shallots are harvested throughout July and August.
Because shallots are a specialist crop, they require a great deal of care from sowing the seeds or plants to harvesting the bulbs and storing them.
Our supermarkets demand the best quality and a uniform shape so, from the start, it is important to make sure that the number of shallot plants in a field is just right - too many plants and the shallots will be too small, too few plants and the shallots will be too big. It is also important that the plants are allowed to grow without too much interference so that they produce the best possible natural results – good for the environment and for customers.
Our shallots get plenty of hours of daylight during the summer which means our farmers can grow high quality varieties. These produce firm brown or red skinned round or oval shaped bulbs. As well as tasting great these varieties also store very well and this allows us to ensure a year round supply of high quality shallots.
Before harvesting can begin, the leaves of the crop must fall over naturally and, as a rule of thumb, 40% of the leaf area must also have turned yellow.
At this point the crop is ‘topped’, which means the leaves are mechanically removed. Two hours later the shallots are lifted out of the ground and left in broad rows in the field, a process known as windrowing.
The shallots must then be left in the field to dry. This takes anything from 6 to 48 hours, depending on the weather. The crop is then lifted from the field into trailers and taken to temperature controlled stores for further drying.
After four weeks the drying process is complete and the skins of the shallots turn darker brown or red, depending on the variety. The shallots are now ready to be graded and are then inspected to make sure they meet our strict standards.
There are many different varieties of shallot grown around the world and these vary in colour, shape, size and flavour. The number of day light hours in a particular country will dictate which varieties can be grown there.
The shallots cultivated in Asia tend to be small, irregularly shaped and have red skins. Danish and Dutch shallots are often yellow-skinned. In France there is considerable regional variation resulting in a wide range of different shaped shallots from round to long and thin.
The French grey shallot or griselle, which is considered by some to be the "true shallot" by many, is Allium oschaninii, a species that grows wild from Central to Southwest Asia.
We’ve got a long way to go to catch up with South East Asia, where shallots are used extremely widely. 50,000 hectares of shallots are grown there!
Read the stories behind the farming families growing the UK's shallotsFind out more
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