Its origins are Asian, but in Italy, and especially in the central regions of Italy like Umbria, it is cultivated with care. It is a spice which enriches dishes with an aromatic note which is both full-flavoured and refined: we are talking about saffron, one of the highlights of Umbria's wine and food for food lovers.
There are four areas in Umbria which are famous for saffron production: Cascia, Città della Pieve, as well as Gubbio and Spoleto.
Saffron production in Città della Pieve has its origins in the 13th century: the first evidence dates back to 1279, when in the Statute of Perugia prohibited the planting of crocus bulbs by outsiders within the contado (surroundings) of Città della Pieve. Today the consortium "Il croco di Pietro Perugino – Zafferano di Città della Pieve" is made up of 30 saffron growers and their product is sold exclusively in threads to guarantee its authenticity. (For information about the associated growers of the consortium click here).
Instead in Cascia, saffron production was re-introduced in 1999. In 2003, the "Associazione dello Zafferano di Cascia – Zafferano purissimo dell'Umbria" was established, with about 23 member producers and involves the entire Valnerina area. Every year on the 25th November, the product floor price is fixed, on occasion of the feast day of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, following an ancient medieval tradition. (For more information click here). If you are in Cascia at the end of October, don't miss the chance to visit the Mostra Mercato dello Zafferano (Saffron Exhibition Market) in Cascia.
Sixteen producers in the Spoleto area joined together to create the "Zafferano del Ducato" Association which promotes the consumption of "red gold" with events, food festivals and exhibition markets in Italy and abroad. Look out for the delicious dish maltagliati allo zafferano con ceci (Saffron maltagliati pasta with chickpeas) in one of the many restaurants in Spoleto. (For information click here)
Instead, the Associazione Zafferano of Gubbio, was set up by a group of young people wishing to bring back and promote the production of this ancient spice, whose plant grows wild in the territory of Gubbio. (For information about the producers click here). In Gubbio, try Coniglio allo Zafferano (Rabbit with saffron), quite a sharply flavoured dish, that is sweetened by the delicacy of the white meat.
If you want to know more about saffron growing and harvesting methods and sample saffron-based products, contact the consortiums which will know how to advise you about organised guided visits and tastings.
In the "Saffron cities" it is also possible to purchase pure saffron and saffron-based products in the many small shops selling typical local products.