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Herman and Ria Zonnenberg

Zonnenberg Witlof

Hi, we are Ria and Herman Zonnenberg and we grow organic chicory here in the south of The Netherlands. We have been growing, harvesting and packing this delicious vegetable since 1971 so you can safely say that we are pretty passionate about the fascinating and above all delicious chicory.

In 2018 we switched from conventional to organic agriculture because the fast developing market for sustainably farmed products fits perfectly with our small scale family business.  We want to focus in getting the best possible chicory from the roots and believe that we are now in a position to do that in the best possible way. During our orientation phase we spoke to numerous organic chicory growers to learn more about the business.  The two other Nature & More growers Math Kersten and Herman Leijten were particularly helpful and we are very great full for their help.

Interview with Herman and Ria

Can you tell us something about growing chicory?
Herman: Chicory is grown in a special way. Cultivation actually takes two years (or growing seasons). In the first growing season, the plant is grown from seeds, in the soil. The chicory plants are not edible in this first phase and are therefore fed to the cattle. However, under the ground these plants grow a very thick pen root... and that's what it's all about. After harvesting the pen roots, they are left to hibernate and stored at -1 degrees Celsius up to 10 or 11 months.

And then...
Ria: After the "cold shock" we put the roots into wooden boxes that are put in darkened cells. The roots receive water with a temperature of around 17 degrees Celsius. This brings them into "spring mood" and the roots shoot into the well-known  white chicory stalks. After 3 weeks, these are large enough to harvest.  When this is done we remove the outer leaves and pack them in boxes that keep them in the dark so the beautiful white – yellow vegetable does not green.

Do you eat a lot of chicory yourself
Ria: Of course, we love it. It is such a healthy, versatile and above all delicious vegetable. The classic is of course ovenbaked with lots of cream, cheese and ham. On the other hand the spoon shape leaf makes it ideal for appetizers and hors d’oeuvres for example with walnuts and blue cheese.  Personally I am a great fan of chicory mustard soup with ham cubes or even better finally sliced smoked salmon.

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