Asparago di Cantello PGI is a fresh vegetable belonging to the Asparagus officinalis L. species, obtained from Precoce d’Argenteuil cultivars and hybrid derivatives.
The production area of Asparago di Cantello PGI is within the territory of the municipality of Cantello, in the Province of Varese, in the Lombardy region.
Asparago di Cantello PGI must be grown in open fields. The soil destined for this crop are sandy loam and before planting the land is ploughed to a depth of between 30 and 60 cm. The distance between the rows must be at least 2 metres, while the “crowns” (the dormant roots of the asparagus) are planted in deep furrows of 20 to 30 cm. In March, the asparagus plants are covered. This operation is performed with a machine that piles up the soil as it passes over the top of the rows, creating a pile of soil which is then covered with a black sheet to keep out the light. This cultivation method is used to keep the asparagus white, because natural photosynthesis is blocked when the plants are not exposed to sunlight. The spears are harvested manually between March and June, with the help of a special tool known as a “sgorbia" (Italian for “gouge”) The crop can be harvested for up to 12 years. The maximum annual production is equal to 10 t/ha. Immediately after the harvest, the asparagus are cleaned and packed.
Appearance and Flavour
The spears of Asparago di Cantello PGI are completely white or with a slightly pink tip. They grow to a maximum height of 22 cm. They spears have a soft consistency and are not stringy. The smell is intense yet delicate, with no strange odours. They are sweet with a slightly bitter aftertaste and have the typical aroma of asparagus, which can range from medium to strong.
The first documents that mention the cultivation of asparagus in Cantello date back to 1831, and are kept in the parish archives. Asparagus that were offered to the church were later auctioned by the parish priest to help with the costs of running the church. Over the years, the role of the asparagus has grown to become one of fundamental importance for the town. Cantello’s farmers sold the asparagus locally or in neighbouring Switzerland. In the early Twentieth century, an illustrious Cantello lawyer, Cesare Baj, funded a prize for the best producers, with the aim of encouraging farmers to improve asparagus production. The Cantello Asparagus Fair was established in 1939, and quickly became an extremely popular annual event. Only asparagus belonging to the early Argenteuil variety were permitted at the fair.
Asparago di Cantello PGI should be eaten fresh or kept at 4° C for a maximum of 48 hours. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and thanks to its sweetness it is great raw in salads, paired with fresh cheeses, especially goat’s cheese, or served with various types of raw or marinated fish. It is most often served cooked, combined with rice, or fried and poached eggs.
The product is marketed as Asparago di Cantello PGI, followed by the class Extra or Prima: Extra, with a spear diameter of 21 to 25 mm; First, with a spear diameter of 13 to 20 mm. The asparagus must be sold whole and fresh-looking, and must be packed in bundles weighing between 0.5 and 5 kg, or loose in specially labelled boxes.
When very fresh, Asparago di Cantello PGI can also be used raw, as it does not have the bitter aftertaste typical of asparagus grown in other areas. It is can be easily distinguished from other asparagus thanks to its unusual white spear and pink tip.