Harvesting Saffron in Cotignac

Jean Leclerq and his partner Sabine are a dedicated couple who own a very special place hidden away in the hills behind our little village.  They have started our first “Safranière”, a small Saffron farm growing the most valuable spice on earth.  We were lucky enough to join them one misty autumn morning to help them harvest and learn more on this amazing flower with the red golden stigmas that is so precious to so many cultures.

Saffron is harvested from the Crocus sativus flower, a flower grown from a bulb that will eventually grow to up to 4 flower heads each.  Once it has reached that size it is normally dug up again and re-divided, so you can organically grow your production over time, which is just what Jean and Sabine have done.  Over the last 3 years they have cultivated terrace by terrace on a steep hill, and they now harvest many thousands of flowers every year.

Why is Saffron so expensive?  It’s all in the labour element needed to pick the flowers, which wilt very quickly, so you have to be there when it’s open and ready to be picked.  Jean and Sabine come every morning over many weeks in October and November to make sure they harvest a maximum of their crop and bring it home for de-stemming.  It’s a complicated and lengthy end to the process, taking many hours for hundreds or thousands of flowers.  Yet the resulting crop can almost always be measured in a handful, it’s so light it’s just a little flutter in your paw and you will need about 150,000 flowers for 1 kilo.  Once dried it gets shut away in tiny little containers to minimise oxygen exposure and sold to some of the best restaurants, mostly in Paris.

Jean is convinced that the Saffron from Provence is one of the world’s best, since it grows surrounded by so many local herbs in the iron rich earth of this part of France.  His production is entirely organic and he uses only the previous day’s de-stemmed flowers as an instant and beautiful fertiliser.

He has promised me some little pots for sale in our Cotignac showroom, which I will be delighted to add to our small range of high quality products, often with a local focus.  I look forward to sharing a Saffron recipe with you once it’s arrived in store, in the meantime I hope you enjoy these gorgeous pictures of our morning together.

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