Italian flavors: Castelfranco's Radicchio Variegato
- WTI Magazine #150 Apr 23, 2022
The “rose that you eat” appeared towards the end of the 19th century as a cross between Treviso red radicchio and endive (escarole): its shape is reminiscent of a head of lettuce but its characteristics are typical of chicory. Thanks to continuous improvements by skilled horticulturists and two centuries of seed selection, today the product is one of the most sought after in the fruit and vegetable sector.
The appearance of the first variegated, which takes its name from the town of Castelfranco Veneto, where it was first produced, is closely linked to the peasant culture of central Veneto. The rural life and harsh winters of the plains, led peasant families to spend many hours in the barn.
Here, they kept chicory harvested from the field under the straw mattresses to protect it from the frost. The needs of conservation led to the discovery of a forcing technique: the hearts of the plants left in the dark under tarps and straw, turned white due to the loss of chlorophyll and acquired a taste that was incredibly better than the bitter chicory and a delicious crispness.
The production of Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco IGP begins with planting in the greenhouse and subsequent transplantation in the field, or by direct sowing. Sowing and transplantation must take place between June and August, while the harvest begins on 1st October.
Forcing-bleaching is the fundamental and essential operation that enhances the sensory, product and aesthetic qualities of Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco IGP. It is carried out by placing the heads in conditions to form new leaves that, in the absence of light, have almost no chlorophyll pigments and highlight the variegation on the back of the leaf; these lose their fibrous texture and become crispy with a pleasantly bitter taste.
The forcing of Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco IGP mainly takes place in two ways: by dipping the heads vertically in water up to the collar, for the time necessary to achieve the right degree of ripeness or in a heated environment in the open field.
The plants are covered with tarps (at one time they used mostly straw mattresses) providing the root system the right degree of moisture, reducing the intensity of the light and fostering the development of a heart with the characteristic mottled cream colour in each head. After grooming to remove deteriorated or unsuitable leaves, the taproot is cut and skinned in proportion to the head.
Grooming must be performed immediately prior to release to the product distribution chain. After grooming, the head is placed in large containers with running water for washing and packaging. The heads are then manually opened, literally leaf by leaf (for this, the water used in the final processing step can be heated to avoid damage) until they assume the characteristic rose shape.
The production, processing and packaging area of Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco IGP includes over 50 municipalities in the provinces of Treviso, Padua and Venice. Production is thus located in the central Veneto plain, which is characterized by warm summers and harsh winters. The soil is fertile and particularly rich in water: in fact, it is the area crossed by the so-called “line of springs” that separates the high and low plains.
In Treviso they tell the story of a beautiful noblewoman from Castelfranco Veneto who attended a premiere at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan adorning her evening dress with a marvellous head of radicchio from her town and receiving many compliments for what everyone thought was an exotic flower.
by Consorzio Tutela del Radicchio Rosso di Treviso e Variegato di Castelfranco with MiPAAF