Hidden treasures

The curious legends about the origin of Treviso Red Chicory

Did you know that...
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The curious legends about the origin of Treviso Red Chicory

Did you know that, according to an ancient popular saying, red chicory (radicchio as it is known in Italy) seems to have been born as a gift that autumn makes to winter, to give a touch of color to the bare and frozen fields?

In reality, there are several legends that revolve around this particular winter vegetable precisely because its origin remains mysterious. Even today if we asked farmers how red chicory originated, there will be those recounting how birds dropped the seeds of this plant on the bell tower of the village of Dosson in times immemorial; some instead will say that friars found and started cultivating the flower in winter, finally, some will simply mention a plant that grew spontaneously along ditches and at the edges of gardens until someone discovered the possibility of transforming it into the crunchy chicory by means of the whitening technique. But the most famous story about red chicory is the one told by a certain Silla Bovo, a pensioner from Treviso who was friends with Artuso and Reato, old farmers from Sant'Angelo: everything started when, on a winter's day, a farmer of the Treviso area brought home some chicory and piled it in a wheelbarrow. Forgotten in a corner, one evening, one of the farmers, approaching the wheelbarrow, picked up a seedling from the now decaying pile but, having removed the external leaves withered and broken, he found with surprise a fresh and bright red colored core.

It therefore seems, based on the nature of the legends and stories told, that the gastronomic discovery of transforming the variety of winter chicory, always present in the fields of Treviso and its surroundings, into the highly renowned red and crunchy chicory is due to a random event.

But let’s now turn our attention to the strictly historical hypotheses: according to some scholars, the cultivation of radicchio began in the mid-sixteenth century in Dosson since there is no documented evidence of the presence of radicchio as we know it and we taste it today, in more ancient times. The first time this winter flower was mentioned dates to the second half of the 1800s in a booklet dedicated to the operations needed to look after a garden throughout the months of the year. From this moment on, there were more and more mentions, almost to compensate for the silence and disinterest given in the preceding centuries to the humble field chicory. However, the affirmation of red chicory as a prized winter vegetable and above all an undisputed icon of Treviso, came about thanks to Giuseppe Benzi, an agronomist of Lombard origin who moved to the Veneto city in 1876, becoming head of the Treviso Agricultural Association and later opening the first exhibition in 1900 dedicated to red chicory right under the Loggia of Piazza dei Signori.

And do you know what techniques are used today to produce Treviso IGP red chicory? The process is long and painstaking and who better than an experienced grower can show you and explain each step? With our tour 'Treviso red chicory: visit to a producing farm and tastings with an expert' you will not only see the work in the fields but also taste excellent traditional products based on radicchio accompanied by a good glass of wine!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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