Brabantse Wal asperges (Brabant asparagus)

From Cookipedia

Brabantse Wal asperges

The designation BOB Brabantse Wal asperges refers to the edible shoots of asparagus grown in the Brabantse Wal in the Netherlands. The name refers exclusively to fresh asparagus falling within quality class 1. ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ are the edible shoots from the asparagus plant (Asparagus officinalis) which are marketed either peeled or unpeeled. ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ are placed on the market with 3 gradings in class 1 and must have the following quality characteristics with regard to thickness and colour:

— A white= 16-22 mm thick

— AA white= 22-28 mm thick

— AAA white= 28+ mm thick

The maximum permitted thickness deviation is 1 mm for 10 % of a batch's weight. The length of the asparagus varies between 20 and 24 cm. The maximum permitted difference in length per quantity sold is 2 cm. In order to be eligible for quality class 1, asparagus must be straight with a clear white, regular exterior and be at least 20 cm long; it must not be discoloured or open at the tip; it must not be hollow and must not be damaged or have any ‘rust’ (brown patches). ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ differ in taste from other asparagus by being slightly salty and very rarely bitter. The asparagus have a clear white exterior.

In order to guarantee the quality, freshness and regional link of the asparagus, once harvested they must be refrigerated at 4 °C within four hours. No processing or preservation techniques are applied, except for peeling if the buyer so wishes. The asparagus are packed by the grower in order to guarantee their origin and recognisability and to preserve their quality. The quality of unpacked asparagus deteriorates 12 hours after harvest as a result of drying-out and discolouration. The asparagus are available to consumers and the catering trade in different units of weight: unpeeled in plastic sacks or peeled in sealed plastic trays.

Concise description of the defined geographical area

The defined geographical area where ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ are grown lies in the southwest of North Brabant Province in the municipalities Bergen op Zoom, Woensdrecht (the ‘Wouwse plantation’, including the Kalmthoutse Heide) and part of Steenbergen and Roosendaal. This area is designated the ‘Brabantse Wal’.

Link with the geographical area

‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ have a soft, mild flavour with little or no bitterness. The initial taste varies from salty to slightly sweet in some cases. Their refined aroma, with no dominant notes, allows them to be prepared in many different ways and used as an ingredient in a wide range of dishes. It is this taste that distinguishes ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ from other asparagus.

The name ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ has for many years now been directly linked with the ‘Brabantse Wal’ geographical area. The ‘Brabantse Wal’ is a distinctive cultural-historical and geological area located in the southwestern corner of Brabant. The geographical area differs from the surrounding land in that it is located within a higher-lying area (‘de wal’, meaning ‘the ridge’). This came into being through a build-up of sand deposits. The sandy soil of the ‘Brabantse Wal’ — which is light and well-drained — provides a favourable soil structure for growing ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’, as the low resistance of the loose sandy soil allows the asparagus to prosper. The ‘Brabantse Wal’ is the Netherlands' oldest growing area and up to and including the 1950s Bergen op Zoom was the Netherlands' largest asparagus-growing area. The growing area covers about 40 ha.

The geographical area is characterised by a mild, maritime climate. The mild, maritime climate is strongly influenced by the warm gulf stream in the nearby Atlantic Ocean, which also warms up the North Sea. This gives rise to a prevailing westerly to southwesterly wind, which blows the relatively dry, salty sea air from Zeeland across the ‘Brabantse Wal’. That wind ‘strikes’ the ‘Brabantse Wal’. The remaining moisture from the salty sea air settles on the sandy soil of the ‘Brabantse Wal’ and also influences the salty taste of ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’.

Water is one of the features which give the asparagus their taste. The salty groundwater — which follows a natural underground course from the ‘Kalmthoutse Heide’ via the ‘Brabantse Wal’ towards Zeeland — is the main source of nutrients for the asparagus, which comprise 95 % water. The sandy soil's soluble minerals, which are naturally present in water, intensify the salty taste of the asparagus. Extra watering would weaken this characteristic. Extra watering is therefore hardly ever carried out. Nor is it necessary to add any salt to dishes prepared using these asparagus. ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ owe their special characteristics not only to the climate and soil in the growing area but also to the long asparagus-growing tradition in the region and the skills of the growers, who have now been growing these asparagus for generations. The history of growing ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ in the area stretches back decades. The Huijbergen monastery's account books even refer to the purchase of an asparagus knife back in 1685.

‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ are grown exclusively on the cold, rich soil (and harvested from mid-April to the end of June) in a sustainable manner. The asparagus are grown in the soil beneath large mounds of earth. As sunlight does not enter the mounds, the upward-growing shoots remain white instead of turning green. The mature asparagus leaves are left in the fields until autumn, allowing the asparagus to absorb the fertilising substances produced by the plant itself. The leaves are removed in late autumn, and in spring a new asparagus bed is laid. ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ are harvested by hand, sometimes using harvest carts which raise from the ground and then replace the plastic sheets covering the asparagus. Harvesting takes place from mid-April to the end of June. Growing ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ requires specific effort and know-how on the growers' part.

The relatively dry, salty sea air means that ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’ are characterised by low disease pressure, as a result of which fewer chemical plant-protection products are used than is common when growing asparagus elsewhere. Monitoring the plants closely also obviates unnecessary use of plant-protection products; these chemical products are used only if necessary and not, as is usual when growing asparagus, in accordance with a specific schedule. Using fewer chemical plant-protection products than is customary for other asparagus-growing contributes to the specific taste of ‘Brabantse Wal asperges’. The growers also regularly take soil samples in order to examine the soil's mineral balance. As a result of this, fertiliser is used only if necessary. Avoiding unnecessary intervention in the natural way the asparagus grows results in a strong crop that is more resistant to disease than other types of asparagus and which maintains its organoleptic characteristics.

Reference: The European Commission