Full red wines, like Barolo and Barbaresco, rare truffles, delicious hazelnuts, mushrooms … We are really spoiled here in Piemonte.
But an expensive delicacy that more and more farmers are cultivating here and which doesn’t get a lot of attention, is saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world. Several small farms in the Bormida Valley grow the saffron crocus. Last autumn I was invited by one of them to see the saffron harvest.
The appointment was at ten o’clock, but shortly after nine I received a call from Grazia, the farmer, saying that the flowers weren’t open yet. It After a cold night, the morning started with fog, so we wouldn’t be able to start until around eleven. Nature decides !
I don’t know what I expected, but upon arrival I am amazed how small the two crocus fields were. Only a few meters long, with rows of small purple flowers.
Grazia said that she always works on her knees, because as the farmers here say: “The ground is low.” New flowers open every day. These must all be picked on the day itself. Not a day of vacation can be taken during the harvest period, because that would mean a disastrous loss.
After picking, the work is not over. All flowers are spread on the table and the three red pistils are taken from each flower. A precise work that requires a lot of attention and time.
Grazia says she was working until midnight the day before and you can not postpone this for a day if you want to deliver a quality product.
The saffron pestles are dried in the oven for at least an hour, at a temperature of 30 ° C, with the oven door ajar. After that it is best to store them in a glass jar. The saffron threads are only ready for consumption after a month.
After seeing all these efforts, I understand why saffron is so expensive. At Grazia’s farm you pay 20 euros per gram which isn’t much if you consider all the work.
In the store you will find two types of saffron: powder or threads. At Grazia you can only buy the threads, but they are much stronger in taste. For example, if you read in a recipe that you need 0.5 grams of powder, then according to Grazia it is sufficient to use 0.25 grams of saffron threads. You must first soak it in lukewarm water for an hour.
In the past, several Italians thought to be “smart” by picking the pistils of wild crocuses, as they are very similar to the saffron crocus. Unfortunately, some had to pay for this with their lives, because these are very toxic!