Saffron in western Liguria: a tale which can be rewritten

Argentina Valley, Eat & Drink

Gold? Silver? Precious stones? A good investment. For sure. But not everybody fully understands just how much a few grams of saffron wrapped in a small sachet actually costs. The price varies between 15 and 30 euros per gram. You do the maths! Nature never ceases to amaze us. Western Liguria can be a land perfectly suited to growing saffron. There are many reasons for this, some of which are deeply rooted in history. Firstly, in Liguria, at a height of 600 meters and beyond, there is a local plant which, aside from just a few other locations, can only be found growing in this area, a wild saffron, the Crocus ligusticus Mariotti (also known as: Crocus medius balbis). A beautiful flower, a rare plant which provides evidence of the possibility of cultivating the Crocus sativus on an agricultural scale.

This plant and flower were very well known to ancient Ligurians. It’s the stigmas that are utilised: full of flavour and full of healthy properties if used correctly. It is also a natural colouring. In the past it was an ingredient used in numerous local dishes, many of which are little known today. It was added in the preparation of spiced biscuits, made on certain special occasions during the year, especially at Easter, or to aromatic breads which used to be found on the tables of the wealthy, especially during the Middle Ages. During those times the majority of production came from the Middle East. Over time, however, this spice also came to be cultivated in central Italy and Sardinia, as well as in Liguria. Enthusiasm, willpower and care are the necessary ingredients. The Brigasca area around Triora, in particular, has become suitable for planting and cultivating saffron, and it’s as if history has come full circle, both in terms of cuisine and natural treatments, which can help it become a high quality, organically farmed elite product once again.

[Alessandro Giacobbe]