Unlock the secrets of saffron

in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

This precious spice is the most expensive in the world and the most difficult to grow. We’re lucky in our Région Sud as this red gold flourishes here in the autumn. When little mauve flowers of crocus sativus start to emerge, the harvesters prepare to pick its precious vermilion pistils which, after drying, will give saffron.

Saffron growing, a thousands-of-year-old ritual and a painstaking task

Saffron-growing came to us from the Greek islands and then developed in Provence from the 16th century. The bulbs of the first saffron farms were planted in the Vaucluse. The end of October marks the harvest of the golden spice in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. The flowers of crocus sativus bloom and reveal their precious filaments. The harvesters start their delicate hand-picking early in the morning before the first rays of the sun can damage the flowers. The subtle stage of sorting is carried out within 24 hours of picking. Flower by flower, pistil after pistil, each filament lodged between the petals is cut. These filaments are what will then give saffron. But before, they are oven-dried or, more traditionally, dried over the embers of a wood fire. Lastly, the saffron farmers are careful to package the saffron adequately and keep it away from the light so that it keeps its flavour and bouquet.

A pinch of saffron for its aromas

Mainly used as a noble spice, saffron has the gift of enhancing stews and casseroles with its subtlety and its scent which are so appreciated by gourmets. When used in cooking, it must be infused to develop all its aromas and it then turns a golden colour on contact with water. In the kitchens of chefs, it is a must that never goes out of fashion. Especially in Provence, where we add a few pinches of saffron to the famous bouillabaisse made in Marseille and the dish is done! Our local producers have it in all forms; threads, jam, saffron-flavoured wine jelly, tea syrup, and even in navettes.

Saffron as a medicinal plant

Much more than just a vector of flavour and colour, saffron has been renowned for its medicinal properties since Antiquity. Famous at the time for restoring energy to the ailing and soothing babies’ gums, saffron was first and foremost a remedy. Thanks to its revigorating and stimulating qualities, you’ll think of it when you’re looking for a natural analgesic or anti-inflammatory. Several studies have actually shown its beneficial action on the digestive and nervous systems, and also on the respiratory system and the heart. And what makes this precious and intriguing plant so unique? The crocin it contains. Today it is recognized as an efficient antioxidant and is used in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

Follow in the footsteps of the saffron growers in the mountains of the South

Head for the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence to meet Mathieu Weirich, an Organic saffron grower in Entrevennes. Visit his saffron fields and discover how this red gold is grown and picked. And you can taste the fruit of his harvest at the Grand Pré restaurant in Le Castellet. On the menu: terrine de baudroie au safran (terrine of lamprey with saffron), poulet fermier sauce safranée (free-range chicken in a saffron-flavoured sauce) and pear and saffron yogurt. Further south in Saint-Vallier de Thiey, Pascale Luiggi invites you to his Le Safran de Nans saffron farm planted at the foot of secular oaks and sycomores. He makes delicious saffron by-products in Caille including saffron honey, Guérande coarse salt with saffron, and even a golden jelly whose multiple virtues have been known since the ages of time. In VentavonSafran – GAEC de l’Hysope grows this spice on mountain lands at an altitude of 700 metres. It’s one of the first saffron farms in the Hautes Alpes. This quality saffron is in the form of deep red threads or filaments, packed in little glass jars. The producer gives planting and growing advice if you’re interested, so make the most of it !

Saffron, a pure product of Provence

In the Var, the family farm Safran & arômes du Verdon opens its doors for an immersive discovery of the life of saffron, from bulb to plate. On the spot or on their web site, you can buy bulbs to grow for yourself. This superior quality vintage saffron is the promise of refined and colourful cuisine. The Safran du Puy Sainte Réparade, affiliated with the association SAFRAN PROVENCE, is particularly favoured by the chefs of haute cuisine. Awarded the Silver Medal at the 2019 Concours Agricole, it enters into the favourite terroir recipes that you can find online on the Terra Tair website. On the spot, activities are provided along with visits and workshops or conferences organized on request. In the Vaucluse, Safran d’Ici is grown by Nathalie and Hervé Couston in organic farming in l’Enclave des Papes in Visan. An exceptional place to discover when visiting the saffron farm, on prior appointment only. To taste it, you can find its by-products in the market in Grignan, in the Marché aux Truffes de Richerenches, in the market organized by”Les Artisans de Provence” and in some farm groceries.