The perfect white asparagus

It’s no secret that the finest asparagus comes from the Loire valley –  singled out for notice over 500 years ago by the Kings of France. In fact, Louis the XIV loved asparagus so much that he moved some production to the Palace of Versailles and knighted his gardener – Jean-Baptiste Le Quintinie – when he managed to grow asparagus from December to July.

At Wellocks, however, we think that asparagus is at its best from March to June – a true harbinger of spring. We also think that the asparagus produced by Frederic and Laura Poupard at L’Angevine is the best there is – a perfect ingredient.

The Poupards are not your typical Loire valley asparagus growers. Frederic Poupard’s father was a cattle trader in the Loire valley with a vineyard and two hectares of asparagus. After leaving school, young Frederic didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps in the cattle business or  the vineyards, so his father gave him the option of taking the asparagus and making his own way. Ordinarily, asparagus was planted as a sideline for families in the area to make a little extra income and as the fallow crop to help renew old vineyards before replanting. Poupard, however, took it on and focused on producing just asparagus.

Today, L’Angevine has 58 hectares producing perfect asparagus. Frederic believes that one reason for their success is that they are more careful with their plants because they farm asparagus as a main crop and not a sideline. The other reasons are the farm’s terroir and Poupards’ passion.

“We have the right combination of weather, human environment, traditional farming methods and soil – and after 12 years of experimenting we’ve been able to make the right choice of asparagus varieties that perfectly match these conditions,” explains Frederic.

The farm’s soil – sandy with a high lime content – is farmed using traditional methods and with a light hand. It is totally organic, free from artificial fertilisers and pesticides. “We are lucky to be blessed with a good terroir – and it is important to preserve it for future generations, for healthy workers and for perfect products,” he says.

Poupard buys specially cultivated roots which are planted and tended for three years before cropping begins. Before each harvest, furrows are ploughed between asparagus rows and ridges are created above the plants to allow the asparagus spears to grow underground. This produces the much-coveted white asparagus, which is picked by hand the moment a pearly tip pierces the soil.  After six to eight hours exposure to light, the white tips change colour creating ‘purple tipped’ asparagus. After exposure to light for 1 to 2 days, the asparagus turns the more familiar green colour and develops a sharper flavour.

L’Angevine asparagus tastes like spring – strong, fresh, clean, sweet and totally tender since Poupard harvests only the finest tip of his crop. Spears retain their crisp freshness as a result of fast cooling – at L’Angevine all asparagus is cooled within two hours of being picked.

Poupard says asparagus doesn’t have to be regular sized or the same colour to be perfect. What’s important, he says, is that base of the spear is always wider than the tip, that the outer skin is fine not coarse and that the flesh inside has an opalescent shine – like mother of pearl – with no bitter after taste.

And, under the watchful eye and tender loving care of the Poupards, L’Angevine certainly delivers. White, purple-tipped or green, this is fantastically good asparagus –  an explosion of flavour and taste without any bitterness. You can even eat it raw, shaved into delicate slivers.

Once you’ve tried it, you’ll understand how asparagus earned its reputation as one of nature’s most mysterious and exotic vegetables – a favourite of kings and one of the oldest signals from mother earth that winter is truly over.

Did you know?

  • Asparagus was the original spring detox vegetable – a Lenten treat
  • Part of the lily family – it’s cousins are garlic, tulips and onions
  • Asparagus roots are called crowns
  • All asparagus is white until it’s exposed to light – then it turns purple and green
  • There’s no scientific proof that asparagus is an aphrodisiac
  • It’s one of the best sources of folic acid in the vegetable world