The delicate white heads must be grown in and around Flemish Brabant, and the chicory must grow underground. Chicory grown using hydroponics, in water in heated cells, or Brabant grondwitloof, grown in, but not fully under the ground, does not count. Moreover, farmers are required to grow Brussels grondwitloof from their own seed. That is quite unusual. These days most people buy their seed, which has been manipulated to such an extent that it unsuitable for further cultivation. Every winter Thomas selects the best heads and leaves them to go to seed in the field. This seed is harvested, cleaned and planted again the following year. The circle is complete.
Chicory, a delicacy with depth
“As our chicory grows underground, the heads are more compact in texture than other types of chicory. I am convinced that the soil affects the flavour; every farmer’s chicory tastes different. Growing in soil is also slower. If chicory is given enough time and not forced to ripen too fast, the resulting flavour is mellower, less bitter.” When the chicory is dug out of the ground, it is covered in black earth. “Inside, we clean the chicory by removing its dirty outer leaves. Then we wrap it in blue paper as protection against the light. Light turns chicory green and that’s to be avoided at all costs.” During cleaning, many leaves get pulled off that have nothing wrong with them except a little dirt. “I thought it was too bad all those leaves were being thrown away as compost. I started thinking about other ways to put them to use. Soup was too simple. When my local chippy suggested croquettes, that sparked my interest. We set up a partnership with a manufacturer who turns our chicory waste into hand-rolled croquettes.”
You can buy these croquettes directly from the farm as well, like the chicory itself. “Direct sales are critical to our survival. The prices retailers are willing to pay are simply too low. Luckily, customers are increasingly aware of the value of quality products and are happy to visit our farm.”