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Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Derived from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, it takes anything from 70,000 to 250,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. The flowers have to be individually handpicked in the autumn when fully open. Fortunately, only a little needs to be added to a dish to lend it colour and aroma and it's the safranal, a volatile oil, which gives saffron much of its distinctive aroma that explodes when cooked. Saffron was grown in France for many years but the plants suffered from phylloxera which also destroyed many vineyards in the 19th century. It is though, making a come back, and at around £75.00 (US0) for 1 gram (roughly 150 hand picked flowers), it’s a lucrative, if manually demanding, plant to cultivate and pick. Which is good news for the handful of canny entrepreneurs who are taking a leap of faith and investing time and money into reviving the lost art of saffron production in south west France. Four years ago, Countess Alexandra Simonoff-Arpels (she prefers just plain old Alexandra) and her husband Eric started a saffron farm in Verteillac, Dordogne, also known as the Perigord region. “We were watching a documentary on saffron growing in Iran, and having thought about a venture which would give Alexandra a means to fulfil her dream of working with the land and producing luxury gourmet products, we thought, we can do that , let's take the chance to invest in saffron, ‘’ explains Eric. They left behind their lives in Paris though, Parisian by birth, Eric, who says he was ‘adopted’ by the Périgord, still works there part time.
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