Italian saffron cultivation is prolific in a number of areas in Italy like the Abruzzi and Sardegna, and now it’s expanded into Sicily, San Gimignano and Città della Pieve, Umbria. We visit Città della Pieve each year to experience the magic of the harvest process.
Città della Pieve is famous as the birthplace of Perugino, Umbria’s most important 15th century painter who used Italian saffron to create the yellow for his paintings. Città della Pieve had faded away as a saffron producer but has reemerged and is expanding its saffron production.
The crocus blossoms grow in a little over a month and then it’s time to pick the blossoms.
Once the blossoms are gathered the slow and painstaking process of separating out the red saffron threads begins. This has to be done by hand and takes a lot of time which is why Italian saffron is so expensive.
Once all the saffron threads are picked and sorted through they go through a very slow drying process. This delicate slow drying process can take hours.
This risotto recipe and photo are courtesy of Serious Eats.
If you’re interested in cooking with Italian saffron be sure to buy the threads rather than powdered saffron as often powdered saffron isn’t really saffron.
I use just a bit of saffron in dishes like this Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons to add a golden hue to the dish.
This is an unusual but delicious saffron dish, a poached egg on a tartlet of potatoes with saffron and a Parmesan cream and mushrooms.
If you want to learn how to cook with saffron try this cookbook which is available in hardcover and Kindle version.
Or join Flavor of Italy for a Cooking Class focused on saffron.
Flavor of Italy leads custom tours to Città della Pieve in the fall for the Italian saffron harvest. Tour participants take part in the harvest process, tour the city and dine on a meal made from start to finish using saffron. The 2020 Saffron Festival will take place from October 23-25.
Food throughout Umbria is fabulous so take advantage of your time in the area to sample the food and wine.
There’s much to see in the charming town of Città della Pieve so you might want to stay for a few days.