Before I visited Tuscany I had no idea that it was one of the world’s sources for Saffron. I had stereotyped saffron with the middle east. The Saffron from San Gimignano is so good that it has actually been awarded a Denominazione di Origine Protteta, or protected designation of origin, so that it is now known as Zafferano di San Gimgnano DOP. The red gold has long been one of the world’s most expensive foods due to its rarity and it is amazingly also cultivated and grown on the gorgeous Tuscan hills.
I had visited an Agritourism farm the last time I was in Italy, in Tuscania (not to be confused with Tuscany), but on this particular trip we were visiting a Saffron farm, called Il Castagnolino, run by a lovely couple called Ivan and Carmela, where you can also stay if you wish, or visit for a meal. This was my first ever visit to a saffron farm.
It is located approximately 3 km from San Gimignano, on the ancient way called “Via Francigena.” The farm house has been restored using eco friendly methods and is surrounded by olive trees. Dreamy right? It has amazing views of the Towers of San Gimignano, over the hills of Chianti and the Valdelsa valley. Hopefully you are visually transported to Tuscany now!
As we drove through a gorgeous drive way with dramatic views, we arrived at the cutest farmhouse with the most enviable scenery.
Carmela gave us a brief tour on the other herbs and produce they grew aside saffron, whilst we headed towards the back of the farmhouse where we sat down in a gorgeous space with a seriously fabulous view ready for a three course meal.
Whilst we waited, Ivan told us how he used to have a career in finance but now could not be happier running the saffron farm. This was something I definitely needed to hear as I am making this very life change (minus the farm).
Saffron is very seasonal and it only blooms for a limited time, usually in October and November. As we visited in May we were unable to see the flowers. The harvest is very labour intensive as the flowers have to be hand picked very early in the morning and stigmas need to be removed quickly before the flowers wilt.
Each flower will have approximately 3 strands of saffron and so it takes a lot of flowers to make a reasonable amount to package and sell. It is this rarity and hard work which makes saffron so expensive. Luckily a little saffron goes a long way as the flavour is quite intense.
Our delicious meal included a starter of a variety of savoury dishes made from fresh vegetables and herbs from the farm’s garden. This included bruschetta with fresh tomato, cauliflower, onion tart, strudel with pecorino cheese and pear, aubergine and grilled apple and a Chive flower. It was all scrumptious and fully vegetarian.
Next followed homemade ravioli with a creamy saffron sauce which was just out of this world.
It was so authentic and I loved the farm to table concept. It was a very memorable meal and we felt like we were dining in someone’s home.
Dessert was saffron gelato served with fresh fruit and was just insanely good. The saffron flavour was delicate and the gelato was so creamy and it just was so refreshing and perfect for a sunny Tuscan day.
With lunch we enjoyed some White Vernaccia Tuscan wine and Ivan also got us to try grappa infused with saffron.
After lunch we wandered to their shop, where they sell homemade produce and I bought some jam. They were also selling olive oil and other produce and it was hard not to pick everything up!
The owners then brought out their dog Runa for us to meet and it was love at first sight!
It could not have been any more perfect. The entire experience was just excellent from the minute we arrived at the farm, the couple’s warmth and hospitality, the delicious homemade dishes we enjoyed, the unrivalled views and getting to learn more about saffron and how it has transformed this couple’s life to one of utter bliss.
If you are visiting Tuscany, I cannot recommend going to visit their farm for either a meal or to spend the night as it is definitely worth it. I am still thinking of this unique experience with so much happiness and it is one I will not forget for a long time.
I am now inspired to one day own a farmhouse in Tuscany with views like this and so it has been added to my life bucket list! I would rather have homes in places around the world that I have fallen in love with rather than one massive mansion so hopefully by the time I retire that dream has become reality 😉
For more information on visiting Il Castagnolino visit their website here. My visit was part of a full day tour with Grape Tours, who I also recommend as I had the best day with them and my tour was such good value. I genuinely loved it!