When you hear the word Agen, you intuitively think that all it takes is for the plums to be harvested in a specific area (Agen).
While this is partly true, it is certainly not all. Well tell you all about it.
An IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) is a European label of recognition, created in 1992, to combat fraud and protect the original product awarded the label.
Lets look it up on the map. Fruit with the Agen Prune label is produced in the strict geographical area set out for Agen prunes, which includes the entire Lot-et-Garonne department (except for the Houeillès canton), as well as the neighbouring cantons in the Gironde, the Dordogne, the Lot, the Tarn-et-Garonne and the Gers.
The orchards, drying facilities and processing and packing plants must all be located in this area. If you want to sell prunes as Agen Prunes, every step of the process (from the orchard to the final packing) must be completed within the area set out by the IGP. And of course, this is highly controlled, ensuring that you know exactly where your Agen prunes have come from.
These are prunes for which the drying process is halted at the final rehydration level for normal prunes, which is a water content of 35%. The fruit is then packed directly into a pasteurised container and sold. It does not undergo rehydration. These prunes make up a tiny proportion of the prunes sold (around 3% of the market). They are available all year round, but some producers release them as new harvest or early prunes, between October and December.
One variation on this method is to freeze the prunes before pasteurising them, instead of packing them immediately. This prolongs the shelf life of the fruit, and provides greater flexibility when marketing the prunes.
These are standard prunes, but the rehydration process is deliberately extended. By going from 35 % to 40 %, or even higher, you get a very rich, flavoursome and soft fruit. These products are sometimes flavoured, with vanilla for example.