PRESERVING OUR CULTURAL HERITAGE
Forcing is the art of growing in the dark. To force is to re-plant a harvested root in the dark and re-grow from it. Without light to photosynthesise, the plant changes character and finds a new identity. Forced plants have no chlorophyll; this lends them their exceptional sweetness, silk-like texture and brilliant colour. As agriculture becomes large-scale and less skilful, historical growing methods like these are under threat. Today, genuine forced produce is rare, and the market is increasingly flooded with fakes.
THE REAL DEAL
During radicchio season, we work direct with growers producing the real deal. As forced bitter leaves gain popularity, industrial growers change their methods to meet demand.
Real forcing is growing artistry we must fight to preserve. Our growers know that to produce genuine flavour, they must wait for the first frosts and transplant their chicories for the crucial second stage of growth. Industrial growers have eliminated this crucial final stage of maturation by selecting seeds designed to self-blanch in the field. Harvested early to meet demand, these intensively-grown leaves are dull in colour and limp in texture.
If left until the temperature truly drops, the plants will build a dense concentration of essential salts and sugars for survival. This is the moment to harvest for regrowth. Pared back, the bare roots are re-planted in the dark and come back as tight, crisp heads with a depth of complex flavour.
Grown by Damiano
Through our work with Damiano, we are the only direct importer of Radicchio Tardivo in the UK.
Grown from his own saved seeds, Damiano’s plants mature slowly in open fields, harvested only once the first frost has fallen. Pared back, the newly formed heads are then transferred to a forcing tunnel, where they mature fully in a constant stream of natural spring water.
Sourced from a 300m deep well on his farm, this mineral-rich water keeps the plants at 17ºC, regardless of the temperature in the tunnels.
At this temperature they continue to absorb essential nutrients and minerals, building a depth of flavour unique to his terrain.
Grower by Graziano
Saved from his own seeds for over forty years, these leaves are each entirely unique and grown for the traits he prizes.
Each head is individually pared back and shaped by hand - losing about 60% of outer, bitter leaf, and rendering a tiny heart as the final product of huge labour.
Colour will diversify as temperatures drop.
Grower by Antonello
Antonello’s now near-extinct sand-forcing technique produces chicories with delicately-balanced flavour, dense texture and striking colour.
He waits for the first frost before harvesting his outdoor grown heads, which will intensify both the colours and sugars in the leaves. He then moves them to his dark forcing shed and replants them in sand.
Absorbing a greater concentration of nutrients from the sand, Antonello’s Castelfranco is sweeter and crunchier than the product of modern growing techniques.
Grown by Antonello
A rise in popularity has led many industrial growers of Pink Radicchio to do away with forcing altogether, planting modern varieties that have been developed to ‘self-blanch’ in the field at the expense of texture and flavour.
There remain only a handful of growers who persevere with sand-forcing, which is becoming even more difficult with warm winters like the one we’ve just had.
Antonello perseveres for the delicately-balanced flavour, dense texture and standout colour that only this unique method of growing can produce.
ROSELLA DI LUSIA
Grown by Antonello
We are the sole importer of Antonello’s sand-forced Rosella di Lusia, developed over nine years by saving his own seeds from his best-performing plants.
Rosella di Lusia, named after his own surname, undergoes a similar forcing process to his Castelfranco and Pink Radicchio.
The plants develop a rose-like shape with a crisp texture that can only be achieved through careful forcing.