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SF Chronicle: California-grown saffron arrives in the Bay Area

Melinda Price has had many jobs: tech worker, caterer, waitress. But it took her a while to reach the goal she set in 1990, when she was working as a high-fashion model in Paris and resolved to one day be a farmer.

“I realized what made me happy was not the fancy clothes and fancy restaurants. It was being in nature,” says Price, who grew up in Stockton and San Francisco. “I went from wearing Givenchy to wearing overalls. I’m so much happier in overalls.”

In January, Price and her husband Simon Avery began selling their first big harvest of the organic saffron they first planted in 2017 at their Peace and Plenty Farm in Kelseyville (Lake County). A Mediterranean specialty, saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices because each brick-red thread must be picked from a single purple flower. The couple harvested 58,000 flowers by hand, carefully removed the threads and then dried and cured them.

“It just has a very fresh, pungent, floral quality to it,” says Chase, who began using the saffron in the restaurant last week. She crushed a few threads in a mortar and pestle and infused it into Sauvignon blanc vinegar as a base for a vibrant orange aioli she served with chicken croquettes and an herb salad. “It’s so special. I don’t know if the aioli is totally the best use for it, even though it’s delicious. I’m going to keep tinkering with it.”

Price and Avery believe they are the first to farm a culinary version of the spice in California — there’s a Half Moon Bay grower who grows saffron for medicinal use — and one of the few in the United States. They join the ranks of other California farmers who have recently attempted to grow novelty crops that haven’t previously thrived here, including coffee and tea, which do best in the tropics, and European specialty items like black truffles and escargot caviar.

To continue reading the article by Tara Duggan, click here to visit SFChronicle.com.

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