Saffron, a famous spice produced on the Florentine hills, is used in Italian cuisine and the “risotto allo zafferano” is one of the “primi piatti” (first courses) that Villa le Barone’s Tuscan cooks currently prepare.
Saffron has been used as a key seasoning fragrance, a dye and medicine for over three millennia, but it is also one of the most expensive spices! It comes from the dry stigmas (Pistil) of a perennial corm,” crocus sativus”, which grows best in a climate characterized by cool to cold winters, with autumn-winter spring rainfall and warm dry summers with very little rainfall. This is why the Tuscan hills are one of the best locations to grow saffron. Harvest takes place in autumn and flowers are picked daily at dawn during the short interval after the dew has evaporated but before flowers wither. The flower is cut at the base of the flower stem and the 3 stigmas are extracted and dried immediately. The difficulty of manually extracting large numbers of stigmas,(which are the only part of the crocus with the desired aroma and flavor), in order to produce even a small quantity of the spice is the cause of the high cost of saffron. To obtain 1kg of dry saffron, 150 000 flowers are required!
The saffron from the Florentine hills, better known as « Zima di Firenze », is a cultivation that originates in the middle ages. During Renaissance saffron also represented a bargaining chip. Merchants from all over Europe came to Florence to buy this refined spice: in the 15th century, to bring it out of the Florentine countryside, one had to pay a duty of 8 “fiorini”. After years of neglect, a group of farmers has revived this ancient Tuscan tradition and the saffron from the region is now protected by the denomination DOP (Certificate of Origin). In Chianti and the Florentine hills, many companies are now dedicated to the cultivation of this valuable plant.
After having read this, you can certainly understand why “risotto allo Zaferrano” (rice with saffron) is on the menu of Villa le Barone, where you can savor local and genuine quality products!