DGM Growers - Chicory
There aren’t many crops you can grow and harvest all year round in Britain, but since 1983 DGM Growers has been producing red and white chicory under cover of darkness to cater for the growing demand for this emerging vegetable.
Whilst a well-established part of the European diet, chicory is a relative newcomer to the British plate. With a strong following amongst chefs and foodies, and frequent appearances on television cookery programmes, its popularity is growing. DGM Growers now produces over 4 million heads of chicory each year.
There’s quite a science behind growing these delicate leaves. Beginning with the root, the first stage happens out in the fields of Lincolnshire near their Holbeach base. Local farms grow the chicory root which is then harvested and taken into the care of grower Brian Read at DGM Growers. Brian puts the fresh root crop into cold storage – technically known as a process called vernalisation. This process bamboozles the root into believing that it has experienced a full winter. Brian and his team then take the roots and set them in growing trays for the next stage.
As a leaf crop, the chicory family of crops can grow out in the fields, such as radicchio, fine frisee and sugar loaf do. Indeed, in Europe, much chicory is still grown outdoors. Trouble is that grown this way, the leaf tends to have a very strong, bitter flavour. To make a more gentle flavour without the bitterness, DGM Growers grow the head, known as the chicon, in dark rooms. The absence of light keeps most of the colour pigment out of the leaf, and a creamier colour leads to a creamier flavour with chicory.
The roots are tightly packed in trays and fed by hydroponics. Twenty one days later the heads reach optimum maturity and they’re harvested and packed.
Brian Read has more than 10 years of experience as a chicory grower. He has great optimism for continuing the steady growth of the business. “The key to getting more people to eat chicory is giving them the confidence to try it. There’s a big misconception that chicory has to be bitter. It’s a delicious flavour – distinctive but not overpowering. We still need more people to understand how to cook with it and enjoy it as a winter vegetable, not just as a summer salad leaf.”
A great, specialist business, at its Lincolnshire base DGM Growers also packs other niche vegetables – celeriac, fennel and artichokes, grown on nearby farms. They’ve worked hard to achieve LEAF accreditation for their environmental credentials and have recently begun their own field growing operations, producing crops such as purple sprouting broccoli and dwarf beans on their land. New for 2012 is a fully-refurbished facility that will be producing prepared vegetables and salads for a wide range of foodservice and multiple retailer customers.