Saffron, the secret gold of Garda
From a niche cultivation comes a brand that is making a name for itself and enriches typical Italian cuisine with quality and fragrance. Lake Garda’s saffron is a jewel that is becoming more and more precious.
The risotto alla milanese is the most famous dish in the whole of Lombardy, and its goodness undoubtedly derives from excellent quality rice, but it is another element that makes this iconic dish unique, in colour and flavour: saffron.
Saffron is a spice we are used to finding in dishes, but one that smells of the Middle East, of faraway lands, of adventure. However, the tradition in the cultivation of this spice is something we could have right at home. It may seem strange, but these flowers find fertile ground in the Brescia area of Lake Garda, where they have been cultivated with care and passion for many years: perhaps the fame of these producers has difficulty in gaining the limelight, overshadowed by the DOPs of Oil or the bubbles of Franciacorta. It is a niche, and, like all niches, it definitely has its devotees.
When trying to learn more about this precious spice, one immediately understands the reason for its incredible value and subsequent price: it is obtained from the flower stigmas of the Crocus sativus, a tiny plant of the iris family that grows up to 20-30 cm and yields up to four flowers at a time, each with three deep crimson stigmas. The saffron stems and stigmas are harvested and dried for use in cooking, dyeing textiles or in natural luxury cosmetics, due to their high content of vitamins B, C, and antioxidants.
Cultivation and harvesting: a delicate process
Some 150 flowers yield 1 gram of dried saffron pistils, to produce 12 grams of saffron you need a kilo of flowers: a huge amount for the final product.
In fact, it seems incredible that a grower’s annual production is only around 3 kg. This is a cultivation without fertilisers and pesticides, followed by manual harvesting and processing that is still totally artisanal: the steps follow each other respecting the life cycle of the plant and following tradition.
The growing process is definitely a difficult one, made possible thanks to the mild climate of Lake Garda and the hills surrounding it. There are in fact several areas where it is cultivated, such as the natural botanical garden of Monte Baldo or Desenzano del Garda, which conceals large cultivations, or even the small Lonato del Garda, where saffron, being a recognised autochthonous product, also bears the Denominazione Comunale d’Origine (DeCo), a guaranteed mark certifying a truly special local product.
Therefore, the Brescia area is the ideal choice not only for strolling through the vineyards, but also for walks in the saffron fields, discovering the history of this flower with its great properties, taking workshops, and tasting products.
Being a niche production, it was only in 2017 that Garda Saffron became a brand, thanks to the persevering work of a producer, Raffaella Visconti who, in the light of market demands, expressed the desire to create a network of small producers distributed throughout the area: the people of Brescia, famous for their industriousness, started work and gave life to a small local excellence
Lo zafferano in cucina
In the kitchen, saffron is versatile and enjoyable: ‘It steps out of the risotto’ and enters other recipes, it ventures into oils and, venturing even further, becomes the protagonist of cosmetic products.
Adding it to desserts or baked goods is not a daring venture: one of the oldest (and most high calorie) desserts from the Lake Garda area, Fiadoni Bresciani, mixes marjoram, eggs, dates and pine nuts with a good dose of saffron.
Our idea? Use it as a highly energetic accompaniment to face a hike in the most enchanting hills of Lake Garda in Brescia.