Artisan Saffron

January 2004

Beautiful, fragrant saffron is the essential ingredient to paella, and many other classic Spanish dishes. These valuable threads impart a golden hue and deep, aromatic taste to any dish it flavors. Saffron is the stigma of the crocus flower, laboriously plucked by hand and toasted to perfection.

Our saffron comes from a small family supplier from the town of Minaya. It was rated as the finest in Spain, so we sought out the owners, Maria Angeles and Juan Antonio to find out more. They explained that each year the crocuses are harvested in a matter of a few days, with members of the community all pitching in to pluck every flower before it wilts. The stigmas are plucked by hand that day, then toasted to preserve the fresh flavor of the saffron.

They confided that many inferior or false types of saffron had flooded the market and hurt their sales to such an extent that many townspeople who used to be in the saffron trade no longer participated. 

We placed our first order that very day, and our orders have helped revitalize this ancient tradition. Because of your orders, the saffron trade in Minaya has been revived.

Our family takes pleasure in introducing fine Spanish food to people all across North America, but we get our greatest satisfaction by supporting artisan producers who faithfully retain the tradition of excellence and pride in what they are making. Our friends at Princesa de Minaya are the perfect example.


More About Saffron

Saffron is the stigma of the crocus flower, which originally came from Asia Minor, where it has been cultivated since ancient times. The Moors brought with them the spice az-zafaran during their invasion of Spain over a thousand years ago. Today over 70% of the world's production is grown on the high Castilian plateau known as La Mancha.

Each year in October the crocus flowers open up in the depth of the night. At dawn there is a breathtaking purple carpet as far as the eye can see. At that moment people from Toledo to Albacete drop everything and rush to the fields, for all the saffron crocuses must be gathered before dusk, otherwise they lose their flavor.

The farmers pluck the flowers between their index fingers and thumbs and bring them to women who sit at long tables. They separate the reddish stigma with blinding speed. Finally the stigma are roasted on a sieve - over charcoal in earlier times, now by gas burners. About 200 crocus flowers are needed to obtain the single gram of saffron you see in our small glass jars. 

The average harvest obtained by an individual family is 8 pounds. Since the earliest of times saffron dried and preserved in the closet between layered sheets has acted as a savings bank for rural families.

The Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafrán is the high point of the year in the town of Consuegra. On the last Sunday of October, at the foot of the large white windmills, the farmers celebrate with music and dancing, and chose a local maiden to be crowned Dulcinea de la Mancha in honor of the beloved of Don Quixote.

Professionals rate saffron in terms of the intensity of its flavor and the depth of its color. Since the difference is not readily visible, many times the saffron you find at the local store is not grown in La Mancha and is of lesser quality. Be sure to look for the D.O. sticker certifying 'La Mancha' saffron.

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