Understanding The Cost of Saffron in Provence
Nutmeg had a few items on her to-do list; number one was to replenish the wine stock before Ginger arrived. The challenge was making a decision in the Alpilles given the number of vineyards nearby. On this particular occasion, she chose Domaine de la Vallongue as they had reopened their boutique after some renovations and were featuring some unique sculptures by Jean-Pierre Rives.
Explore the original post for Nutmeg’s saffron discovery at this vineyard. This led to a saffron farm visit and her appreciation of the cost of this spice. Views of the Alpilles are sweeping, seeming to stretch forever from this vineyard. The boutique is actually two bright, spacious rooms appointed with attractive shelves and tables. The rooms are simply an artful backdrop to display a variety of tempting household items and suitable gifts. And most certainly the reason for any visit is to spend a few moments at the long, wooden counter savouring the unique features of their wines.
The word saffron from the Arab word zafaran, which means yellow – the colour imparted to food by the dried stigma of the flowering crocus. The Crocus sativus is part of the Iris family. This tiny Iris cousin, a perennial, flowers in the fall. The plant grows from a bulb to a height of 20-30cm; the purple flower itself is no more than 4 cm. Each flower contains three styles or stigma, not much larger than the size of a thread; these are harvested and dried to produce saffron. The flowers only bloom for a remarkably short span of time, a matter of hours. It takes 250,000 stigmas to make just half a kilo of saffron. On one acre of land, you can only expect to reap 2.5-3 kilos of saffron.
In October, the Provencal sun takes its time rising above the horizon, like an old dog mentally weighing the effort of its next move. In the Jabron Valley, at 600 meters, about 10 kilometres from Sisteron, autumn mornings can be particularly frosty with single-digit temperatures. However, the saffron harvest at le Moulin de Jarjayes cannot wait for warmer weather the tiny purple-hued crocus blooms only last a few hours.
The Jabron Valley is a perfect place for a getaway with activities for sportive types (mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, trail running and more). And, for those interested in gourmet products many family-run operations are producing high-quality lamb, honey, legumes (lentils, chickpeas), grains and truffles.
The Jabron Valley’s rolling fields are a glimpse of Provence from a more pastoral era, a time before mega-outlet malls and online shopping. The local population had to survive Mother Nature’s moods and cultivate the land regardless of what she delivered; in an area that can experience annual temperature swings of 50˚C from the coldest to hottest days.
The Parish of Jarjayes finds its way into recorded history starting in 928. Although, there were inhabitants in the area well before organized religion. The old mill in the village dated from 1070 and remained in operation until 1940.
The Bouchet family has been farming in the area for several generations. Their focus now is on growing seasonal fruit including strawberries and raspberries and cultivating the saffron of Provence.
Even at an altitude of 600m, there is little relief from the August heat, and 12,000 crocus bulbs require backbreaking work. From mid-October to mid-November the flowers are harvested in the morning. Then the threads (styles and stigmata of the flower) are delicately separated from the petals. The dehydration process follows and takes roughly 35 minutes, after which the stigmas are packaged and ready for sale.
For more on the saffron growers in Provence click here.
For recipes with saffron, follow this link.