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Monday, June 25, 2012

Saffron in Provence

 It’s not unusual to come across clumps of thyme, rosemary shrubs, even wild oregano while rambling in sundrenched rocky Provence but saffron cultivation in Provence?   This piece of news was fascinating -- up until now I’d associated the exotic spice with ancient Eastern treasures.
I already knew three things about exotic saffron; it is one of the most expensive spices around, that you usually add the treads towards the end of the cooking time and that despite its high price many Mediterranean cooks swear that a Bouillabaisse is not a proper Bouillabaisse without saffron. But this precious spice is also the defining ingredient in paellas and risottos; the must have ingredient for many non European dishes.

Thanks to a group of enthusiasts, Saffron cultivation in Provence started up again seven years ago in the little village Le Barroux, at the foot of the Mount Ventoux and today it is one of the largest cultivations in France – 800 square meters.
It was here in the Vaucluse region of Provence that the popes introduced cultivation of the precious spice in the 14 th century; growing continued up until the 17 th century but because of frosts many growers gave up.
Growing saffron is relatively easy; like olives, it thrives on the Mediterranean climate – strong dry summers and cold winters.

Although cultivating this very pretty flower is easy, you have to hand pick the red stigmas of the purple crocus then dry them – one of the main reasons saffron is so expensive. Also the stigmas loose a fair amount of weight during the drying process.  Just think, it takes 200 crocus flowers to produce one gram of saffron.

Harvesting is between October to November, a good time to discover the unique aroma and color and to understand why this culinary treasure sells between 19 and 34 euros per gram.

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