The city of San Gimignano owes its fame to the beautiful towers that we can still admire today: they were erected thanks to the economic development the town had in the past, due to its strategic location along the trail followed by pilgrims on the way to Rome. Many historical documents from the 13th century reference local saffron trading in San Gimignano, thanks to its excellent quality. The product became so expensive that it was used as a real money substitute. In the Middle Ages it was one of the few materials suitable to dye fabrics with but it was used in medicine too. Unfortunately in San Gimignano the cultivation declined in the 17th century but the crop was reintroduced in 1991 thanks to the interest of a local group of farmers, under supervision of the Agriculture Department of the University of Florence. A in-depth analysis of the soil and the microclimate proved that the more suitable crocus cultivar for this area was the same one used in Abruzzi, which was selected for the purpose. Today the saffron of San Gimignano is a PDO certified product, a category that stands for protected designation of origin. It is extracted from the plant from the crocus sativus, grown around this area: in the shops or at local farms it is not sold as powder, which could easily be altered, but instead is sold in small packages containing the pure stems. Producing 1 kilo of saffron involves processing 150,000 flowers but it is also true that 0.1 grs is enough for a four serving risotto! Being sterile, the purple flowers Crocus Sativus don’t produce viable seeds; reproduction hinges on human assistance: corms must be dug up, broken apart, and replanted. A corm survives for one season, producing via this division up to ten "cormlets" that can grow into new plants in the next season. In July the bulbs are selected and planted in the fields. Flowers bloom between October and November and need to be harvested in the early morning, when they are not open yet. The crocuses need to be processed the same day, the operation consists of extracting the vivid crimson part of the stems from around the yellow stamen of the flower. They will be then dried at a temperature not above 50°C in order to preserve their organoleptic properties. By Elisabetta Marchi - Your personal Tourist Guide in Florence, Siena and surroundings (Italian, English, German, French spoken). http://www.tuscanytrotter.com/en Passepartout Homes offers several holiday homes in Italy, ideal to explore Tuscany. Have a look.