All that Glitters in Abruzzo is not Gold but Saffron
Abruzzo lies sandwiched between mountain and sea, rich in both history, art and a traditional dietary culture preserved to this day. The region produces some one hundred and sixty unique products locally. However the real crown jewel of Abruzzo for which it is most famous is its PDO-marked ‘Zafferano’, or ‘Saffron’. (PDO – Protected Designation of Origin)
Saffron is cultivated in the plains of Navelli, which lie between the mountains Gran Sasso and Sirente. One kilogram of saffron usually sells for four thousand euros, making it the most expensive spice in the world. While it is the difficulty in cultivation and the by-hand harvesting that draws the price upwards, when one considers the cultivation process perhaps its value is not so high after all.
Saffron’s technical name is “crocus sativus” and is of the plant family “Iridaceous”. It is now cultivated mainly in Asia in areas off the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, however it has been produced in the Abruzzo area since around eight hundred years prior. The Italian word zafferano and the English saffron is thought to be of Arabic origin, but its roots have also been traced as far back as ancient Persian, where it meant “of a golden stigma”.In Italy, saffron is mainly cultivated in Marche, Abruzzo and the island of Sardinia, however it is also cultivated in parts of Umbria, Tuscany and Basilicata. It is only the three stigma of the saffron flower that are harvested, and its uses extend from culinary to medicinal. In order to produce one kilogram of the short thread-like stigma of the saffron flower, they need to be painstakingly handpicked from, roughly two hundred thousand flowers. Just a few milligrams of saffron will impart its flavour and fragrance to cooking and beverages, but it is also widely used as a dying agent and for its fragrance in perfume. The saffron flowers produces neither fruit nor seed so its bulb is highly prized, and the cultivation methods used in L’Aquila to nature its PDO brand zafferano bulbs is said to be an art form. The cultivation areas range from between 350 to 1000 metres above sea-level. They include: Barisciano, Caporciano, Fagnano Alto, Fontecchio, L’Aquila, Molina Aterno, Navelli, Poggio Picenze, Prata d’Ansidonia, San Demetrio nei Vestini, San Pio delle Camere, Tione degli Abruzzi, and Villa Sant’Angelo.
The Consortium for the preservation of L’Aquila saffron
To protect the abundant local culinary culture of Abruzzo, the local food producers have formed together into one Consortium. The local saffron has a fragrance unlike any other and, through the efforts of the Consortium, it has become a highly sought-after ingredient across the globe. The saffron has become the medium through which the region’s popularity has widened and along with the local cuisine and wine it has contributed in revitalising the local tourism. In recent years, there have been several tourism projects, with the aim being to ‘rediscover’ traditional recipes and culture. The Consortium’s main objective is the promoting of the continued preservation of Abruzzo-produced saffron. Furthermore, it aims to promote the region’s growing production prospects and dependability, and also to promote high quality products both within Italy and to the wider world. It promotes marketing, sales and utilisation of Abruzzo saffron, as well as monitoring and ensuring production standards.
Uses of L’Aquila Saffron
For the sticks of saffron, first place it in a small bowl to “revive” before adding it to soup stocks or meat broths. Or crush it within a small bag before adding it as a powdered spice at the end of your cooking, to bring an extra ‘spice of life’ to your dish. Traditional cooking uses of saffron include saffron risotto and saffron lamb ribs.