The saffron harvest is finished in Italy and I missed it! I turned up in a small village of Navelli, hoping to see the locals harvesting the “Oro rosso” (red gold) but an old man sitting on a bench in the village square said I was a few days late. The flowers of Crocus sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus, are harvested mid- to end October but it is not easy to know in advance the precise day. The growers watch the weather and the buds closely not to miss the right time. The precious blossoms are harvested early in the morning while they are still closed. The same day the crimson red stigmas have to be quickly extracted by hand, there is no time to lose.
Here is a short video showing how delicate the process is:
Then they are dried and carefully packed to be sold as one of the world’s most costly spice. 150 crocus flowers yield one gram of dry spice.
The saffron of Navelli is highly prized for its zesty aroma and intense crimson colour. Only a few local families grow nowadays this precious flower on eight hectares in the Navelli Valley. It is not money that drives the saffron producers as none of them makes a living out of it, it is passion and centuries of traditions that keep them tending those rows of delicate crocus flowers.
So, no saffron harvest for me this year. I decided to console myself with a meal in a local restaurant Antica Taverna, where there is a menu of traditional dishes with the precious spice. I had chickpeas with saffron (Ceci e zafferano), pasta chitarra with saffron, chesnut flour shortcake with ricotta and saffron and a sip of saffron liquor. An overdose it was not! I also have a tiny jar of delicate crimson saffron threads from Navelli sitting on my spice rack in the kitchen, waiting for special precious occasions.
You can buy Navelli saffron directly from Abruzzo online.