L’Aquila saffron



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In the Abruzzi, the culture of the saffron and the production of this spice remained unchanged since nearly six centuries.
It is about a heritage ancestral, made “good practices” and transmission of a know-how and values extraordinary.

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For more than eight centuries it has been the name of spice obtained of the harvest and the drying of the pistils of the flower Crocus Sativus in the area of Aquila and in particular in the plain of Navelli where this saffron, considered best in the world, elected residence.
Along the antique centers marked by the Roman way Via Claudia Nova then by the large path of mountain pasture of transhumance between the pastures of Gran Sasso and of Tavoliere pugliese, draws up the extraordinary village of Navelli which, since centuries, represents the saffron of Aquila, one of the most required varieties on a world level of this spice very précieus
Saffron was originally smuggled via Toledo in Spain across to Navelli by a mythological Dominican monk purportedly from the Santucci family in the mid C13th; the family Villa remains but no written records of him are in existence. 
At that time saffron was regarded more for its medicinal, digestive, and antiseptic powers rather than it subtle taste, a taste that no-one seems quite capable of defining with one word.
“Bling” is not really a term ever tied to the Renaissance, but during this period key families like the Medici began using saffron to colour their food gold, as a very simple display of their wealth at banquets… and so began saffron’s simple inclusion into European haute cuisine.
Originating in Asia, the culture of the saffron was spread in Europe and then in Italy thanks to a Dominican monk of the family Santucci de Navelli.
“Red gold” of the Abruzzi, the saffron of Aquila was marketed during centuries contributing considerably to the success of the art of cooking abruzzain.
Thanks to the breeding of the sheep then to the culture of the saffron, the villages of this zone lived prosperous seasons, as the magnificence testifies some to the monuments which reached us.

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L’Aquila saffron “Zafferano dell’ Aquila” is regarded as the best in the world, for its chemical characteristics, physical and organoleptic measured on the basis of series of parameters which determine with exactitude the characteristics related on the color, savour and the flavour while guaranteeing the maintenance of the purity of the product.
The saffron of Aquila is moreover one of the rare saffron to be profited from such instruments of accreditation of quality which make it possible to accurately trace the production processs with an aim of offering a product of the best quality which is and of protecting the interests from its name.

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Producers of the saffron of Aquila and plots on which it is grown will be entered in a register kept by the control bodies described in article 10 of Regulation (EEC) No 2081/92.

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There is abundant documentary evidence that saffron was being grown in the province of L’Aquila in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The lives of the local people were deeply marked by its growing economic importance and changing fortunes; trade with many different European regions was encouraged, as historical sources show.
Because of the importance of the saffron trade, L’Aquila attracted foreign merchants, especially from northern Europe, who settled there permanently, laying the foundations for flourishing economic activity and intense cultural interchange that contributed to the development of social and political relations between the local population and central and northern Europe.
L’Aquila saffron is not only a single product from an organoleptic point of view, it also contains the historical and cultural inheritance of the zone considered, always alive and present in the gastronomy and the expressions idiomatic like in the folk demonstrations.
The fact that a protected designation of origin guarantees the origin of the product means that special procedures are required to ensure traceability at different stages of production.


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For over 800 years the Crocus sativus plant, from which saffron is obtained, has found an area propitious for its growth in the Navelli plain, the typical area for the production of L’Aquila saffron, located in the province of L’Aquila and ranging in height from 700 to 900 metres.
This area has a soil and climate which give L’Aquila saffron its special features.
In fact, it is grown in an area which is atypical and almost unsuitable for the biological and ecological characteristics of the plant.
The cultivation of saffron in this province takes place on the lower slopes of mountains, between 350 and 1 000 metres, the highest of the areas around the Mediterranean where saffron is grown.
The annual rainfall is about 700 mm, including over 40 mm in summer.
In the other areas around the Mediterranean where saffron is grown, rainfall is slight.
Average summer temperatures in L’Aquila province do not exceed 20 °C to 22 °C.
These features mean that the area may be regarded as having a temperate Mediterranean climate, almost resembling that of a wet plain.
The area where L’Aquila saffron is grown has a medium soil composed of humus and loam which retains water well while the high sand content makes it loose and aerated.
There is a good proportion of active lime and a large amount of organic material; it is low in phosphates content and high in potassium.
The chemical composition and looseness of the soil make the area particularly well-suited to the growing of L’Aquila saffron, which can easily be distinguished from other types of saffron.
Besides the soil and climate of its area of production, L’Aquila saffron owes its special features to agricultural practices going back several centuries which people have employed to enable saffron to survive in this area of rainy foothills.
Over time, techniques have been devised to select the bulbs and an annual cultivation pattern developed.

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The typical cultivation technique for the production of L’Aquila saffron, whose main feature is its propagation system, ensures the survival of the species and further distinguishes the plant from similar varieties grown in other areas, both in Italy and elsewhere.
The flowers are harvested exclusively by hand so as not to damage the stigmas they contain.
These are then roasted, which is the most important stage in the production of L’Aquila saffron; the point of completion is determined solely by an expert whose techniques have been transmitted from generation to generation.
Because of the biological features of the plant, which is a sterile triploid propagated only by division of the corms, only evolutionary change linked to gamete reproduction will modify its genetic character.
To that extent, ‘Zafferano dell’Aquila’ is a living fossil, since both the plant’s botanical features and the growing techniques have remained unchanged for over 600 years.
Consequently, the plants grown in the province of L’Aquila constitute a population, which we qualify as a cultivar or biotype, since the biological changes distinguishing them from other cultivars are exclusively due to the specific climatic and rainfall conditions in the area.

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The flowers are picked early in the morning, before the sun opens them. They are then opened to extract the stigma, which are toasted dry.
During toasting the stigma lose 5/6 of their weight: 600 grams of fresh stigma yield hardly 100 grams when dry.

A 1g jar therefore contains the yield of 200 blossoms.
A great deal of work is involved before, during and after harvest, but the result is worthwhile, considering the exceptional quality of the aroma and unique flavours.
The saffron strands are soaked in a little lukewarm water or broth before use in cooking traditional risotto or typical Abruzzo recipes: first courses with lamb or crayfish; mutton and poultry; in cakes or to enrich cheeses and dairy products.

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Zafferano dell’Aquila”. The name coined over 600 years ago for the medicinal spice obtained by picking and drying the stigma (or pistils) of the Crocus Sativus that grows L’Aquila province, in Abruzzo, especially on the Navelli plain, where saffron has settled into its ideal habitat.
The Crocus Sativus L. plant, from which L’Aquila saffron is obtained, is grown in accordance with the following practices, passed down by local tradition.
The soil is prepared by tilling to a depth of 30 cm and burying organic fertiliser, smoothing and levelling the surface, preparing hollows and furrows two to four rows wide, at a distance of 20 to 25 cm, for the new planting.
It is prohibited to apply any other type of fertiliser in the course of the growing cycle.
The corms are gathered in the first fortnight in August and sorted; care is taken to select the largest healthy and pest-free ones; they are planted in the prepared plot with the growing tip uppermost in the second fortnight in August.
Crops are rotated over a five-year period. Corms are planted in continuous rows, at a density of 500 000 to 600 000 (7 to 10 tonnes) per hectare.
After planting, cultivation involves simple operations such as staking and digging.
Chemical weedkillers are prohibited, watering is authorised only in periods of drought.
The bulbs are planted in August in flowerbeds prepared in the fields. Flowering starts in mid-October and lasts approximately three weeks, until early November.

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