Saffron – the Red-Gold of Venanson

Standard
Christophe Marro with a basket of harvested saffron crocus

Christophe Marro with a basket of harvested saffron crocus

Today local saffron producer Christophe Marro, at his alpine farm, Le Cabane Safran, below the village of Venanson, opened his doors, well  gate, to the public to help with the harvest of their saffron and to introduce people to the different ways of using saffron. Their southerly exposed field, lies sheltered in a half basin between the mountains at 1000m.

The most expensive spice in the world comes from the purple saffron crocus which needs to be cultivated in well drained soil and which can tolerate frosts and temperatures to -10C.

The saffron crocus is unknown in the wild; its most likely ancestor is the Crocus cartwrightianus which originated in Crete or Central Asia. The crocus and the saffron stamens featured in Minoan art and culture. The saffron crocus is native to Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in what is now Greece.

Harvested field of saffron crocus

Harvested field of saffron crocus

Marro planted 4000 saffron bulbs in early 2010 and, with Mélanie Cassard, runs his organicsaffron farm as well as growing apples, quinces, pears and plums and also makes jams.

Melanie also works at the restaurant O a la Bouche at le Boreon and saffron themed meals are held during the autumn saffron season.

Saffron is a traditional ingredient in the Provençal fish stew Bouillabaise. According to the Michelin Guide Vert, the four essential elements of a true bouillabaisse are the presence of rascasse, the freshness of the fish; olive oil, and an excellent saffron.

La Cabane Safran

La Cabane Safran

Saffron Harvest

Standard
Basket of freshly harvested saffron flowers

Basket of freshly harvested saffron flowers

A gorgeously sunny morning seemed an auspicious start for the first harvest of the autumn saffron crocuses in the sheltered fields of the southern alpine village of Venanson. A small field full of the bright purple flowers was carefully harvested. The flowers would grow back in two to three days allowing for four or five harvests during the season.

The golden stamen would be removed and dried before being packaged and sold at 35 euros a gram – almost literally worth its weight in gold. Ready powdered and cheap saffron is often bulked up with turmeric.

Saffron stamen and bee

Saffron stamen and bee

Saffron has an exotic and aromatic character, as well as a delicious golden glow, which cannot be replaced by any other spice and as such it is an important ingredient in many dishes such as Provencal bouillabaise, Spanish paella, and Swedish saffron buns.

It also can be found in drinks, such as the Roman drink written about by Apicius and in Indian sherbets.