The true history of Radicchio Rosso di Treviso is shrouded in myth but perhaps the most poetic origin story is that the first chicory seed was dropped on the roof of a church, where it was carefully tended by monks from a local order. The most common story however attribute its introduction to a Belgian horticulturalist, Francesco Van de Borrem who applied the techniques of his home country to Italian chicory. Whatever the true tale, by 1900 Radicchio Rosso di Treviso had become enough of a speciality that exhibitions were being held to celebrate its qualities.
Radicchio Rosso di Treviso PGI is grown exclusively in a small area of North Eastern Italy, namely from a select few municipalities around the cities of Treviso, Padua and Venice. Here it can benefit from the numerous springs found within the region. Grown in both early and late varieties, which have slightly different flavours and textures, both undergo a similar process to obtain the final product.
Planted before the end of July, Radicchio Rosso di Treviso PGI is left in the fields through autumn before being harvested. Whereas early growing Radicchio can be harvested at any point after the 1st September, the late growing variety cannot be brought in from the fields before the first frosts. After harvesting, the Radicchio is cleaned and the outer leaves are removed. The heads are then gathered into bundles or placed in nets or crates. The vegetables are then carefully stored to prevent any damage.
The chicory is now ready to be bleached and forced – a process that gives the Radicchio its distinctive colouring and crunch. Placed in dark tanks, its stems are soaked in local spring water, which is kept at a constant temperature. The leaves however, must never touch the water! This tricks the plant out of its hibernation and encourages new growth. The darkness in the tank stops the Radicchio from producing chlorophyll, blanching the stems.
There is one final step before the product can be sold as Radicchio Rosso di Treviso PGI. The Radicchio is prepared exclusively by hand by removing the outer leaves and carving the stem. This takes considerable finesse, as it is only through careful removal of the outer segments that Radicchio Rosso di Treviso PGI takes on its characteristic appearance and is then ready for sale.