The Glorious Delight of Italian Saffron

Saffron sparkles and shines in Italy. Here's the lowdown on this ephemeral gold.

Collina d'Oro saffron (ph Germano Pigozzo)

Saffron has wielded legendary power throughout the centuries. Greek mythology states that the young Crocus bore an unapproved love for the nymph Smilace. As a result, the gods punished him, transforming him into a beautiful flower, Crocus sativus, the botanical name of a plant around 4 inches tall with threadlike leaves and scarlet pistils. The Athenian orator Isocrates (436-338 BC) seems to have used it to perfume pillows as a way to prompt nocturnal visions.

In addition to literature, this precious spice is well known today for its economic activity. Having originated in Asia Minor, saffron was originally used mainly for dyeing, cosmetics, and medicine. Today, its role is in the kitchen. In fact, it's the spice that gives risotto alla Milanese its signature golden hue.


The global production is about 178 tons, 90% of which comes from Iran. The remaining 10% comes from Spain, India, Greece, Morocco, and Italy. Italy's annual production is closely linked to the climate and ranges between 1000 - 1300 pounds, occupying about 50-55 hectares of the national soil. It's cultivated in Sardinia, Abruzzo, Tuscany, Umbria, and Le Marche, but cooperatives or individual producers are also emerging in Sicily, Cinque Terre, Valtellina, and other areas of Lombardy and Puglia. The data comes from the Associazione Zafferano Italiano, founded in 2012 in Perugia, whose members include production areas with territorial brands and regions in which there is recognition of the protected designation of origin as regulated by the European Union. Among the requirements that certify this spice's quality, in addition to manual collection and processing, the length of the stigmas: from 1 to 3½ centimeters.


Italian Saffron Producers

Here's a look at four producers whose saffron finds a balance between biodynamic and ancient techniques.


Como, Lombardia

Collina d'Oro is the name of the saffron cultivated in Faloppio, on the gentle slopes overlooking Lake Como. Founder Rolando Germani introduced the cultivation for the first time in Northern Italy. "I started in 2013, planting of 135 crocuses. The following year the bulbs were already 8,000, thanks to the ideal climate and mineral-rich soil." The plants were selected from the best varieties from Italy and the Spanish region Castilla-La Mancha, Mecca of this spice.

Credits: Susan Wright


Cascia, Umbria


The pure saffron of Cascia is cited in both the Canticle of the Creatures by Saint Francis of Assisi and used for coloring illuminated codice. It grows spontaneously on the mountains, the cultivation having been handed down from generation to generation until 1600 before disappearing. In 1999 a consortium of farmers revived the art. An example? The company of Roberto Persiani in Colmotino, a small hamlet near Cascia at an altitude of 3,000 feet. The secret? "The purity of the air."

L'Aquila, Abruzzo

The producers of the Altopiano di Navelli Cooperative are proud to call L'Aquila Saffron DOP. Considered among the best saffron in the world, it has an unusually pungent aroma which, once processed, can last for up to ten years. "The first bulbs were imported from Spain in the 12th century by the Dominican monk Santucci, a native of Navelli and an expert botanist. Today, we only produce around 90 pounds of saffron on the entire plain."



Turri, Sardinia

Cultivated in the countryside of Turri, San Gavino Monreale, and Villanovafranca (Marmilla), the saffron of Sardinia DOP dates back to the times of the Phoenicians, the first importers of bulbs. The island lends itself well to the cultivation because of its dry and not very rainy climate. Local tradition: during the separation and drying phases, some expert growers manipulate the stigmas with their fingers greased with olive oil in order to improve their appearance and preservation. appearance and shelf life. Among the most renowned companies Itria, of the Picchedda family.




Courtesy: lacucinaitaliana

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