Pistils that look like confetti in large hands, with very short nails, of those who work the earth and those of those small red powder magazines have created a challenge. Obviously won.
Diego Bovard is a very well known name in Valle d'Aosta, a hard-headed one, a true valgresein, who from his homeland, the Valgrisenche, that of the Beauregard dam, brought with him the slightly acidic self-irony and above all the unmistakable patois.
Diego arrived in Morgex out of love, to reach his Elena, who made him become a true veulle-en, that is, an inhabitant of the Villair hamlet: a maze of wooden and stone houses, with perfect Valle d'Aosta lose roofs, and of narrow streets and alleys that flow onto wonderful emerald green meadows, when the warm sun of the summer sunset bathes them with light. The Villair is one of those villages which, if looked at from the outside, it seems impossible that all those meadows would be between the roofs and the walls and instead, if you go inside, everything disappears, to leave room as if by magic only to that that matters: nature anthropized with kindness and savoir faire all of Aosta Valley.
The idea of saffron
Agrotechnician and agri-food consultant, Diego to round off eats. Or, at least, this is what he likes to say, but in reality he dedicates his heart and soul to the plants and the earth: in 2013, with a family farm already underway, a new idea kidnaps his sleep and in a short time he decides to devote himself to the cultivation of saffron. Nobody before him had tempted us in the Aosta Valley, a land with a great agricultural tradition made up of hard work and rough terrain, in a context with an average altitude of 2000 meters. The adventure of La Branche begins with a small plot of 2 square meters, "a test to test the resistance of the plant and its adaptation to the Valle d'Aosta altitudes". He plants about 150 bulbs and manages to make 1 gram of product. At the moment, and after 5 years of tests, attempts and balances, 500 square meters are cultivated, for 150 grams of product and Diego, with his son Nicolas, aims to reach 1000 square meters of crops for 200 grams of pistils.
Saffron in the world and in Italy
"I always thought saffron was an oriental plant, suitable for warm places, the sea," explains Bovard. "And instead I was amazed when I realized that the main producers are nations with mountainous places, with plateaus and even cold climates, such as Iran, Afghanistan and Morocco."
Saffron, pure gold among the spices, is however also very cultivated and prized in the boot: «In Italy we are no less. Even the area of Sondrio and Lombardy in general was very famous in the past, while now the saffron of L'Aquila (DOP since 2005 ed.) And that of Sardinia (San Gavino Monreale above all, ed.) Are the most popular ".
The price of the spice produced in Italy is around 18 euros, but that of Diego also reaches 27: it was born and grows at the foot of Mont Blanc, at 1000 meters high, on land that man snatches from the mountain and with temperatures which often fall far below freezing, a heroic agriculture that few regions can boast of.
The cycle of saffron plants is particular since they are inverse plants: they flower when the rest are at rest and vice versa, this means that they are planted in August, they bloom between October and November (resisting up to -20 °), they are not harvested very much afterwards and start again with bulbs that can produce for 3-4 years in a row, blooming and drying according to the months. The flowers, violet, but often also albino white, are delicate and cannot be preserved, they must be worked quickly and the pistils must be extracted with enormous care, while the plant has no climate or temperature problems, but needs a place definitely exposed to Sun.
The embrace of Mont Blanc
The production of La Branche is obviously small and is aimed at several restaurants and clubs in the Aosta Valley that seek quality even in detail, but the fact of producing small quantities has turned on a bulb more shining than ever in the head of Nicolas, moved by the same passion of his father for land and agriculture and graduated in Padua in Sciences and Culture of gastronomy and catering. "Clearly marketing the raw material, if we are not talking about large quantities, becomes a problem in terms of costs, but trying to create processed products can help". Thus it was born The embrace of Mont Blanc, an herbal tea that contains 4 herbs (mint, verbena, lemon balm and the famous genepy), and La Branche saffron. The infusions with saffron are rare, but this one is ready to apply as one of the best: after removing the genepy that is bought at km 0, the other plants are all from the farm and the choice to create a loose herbal tea avoiding the filters. it already makes it less accessible to the general public, targeting those who love the slow and thoughtful infusion ritual. In addition, the soft and "fat" taste of saffron fills the palate and contrasts very well with the freshness of the plants which instead slide like in the best herbal teas with mountain herbs.
The latest addition to the La Branche home brought more than confusion, forcing Diego and Nicolas to grow at the level of fields to be cultivated and at the level of machines, because the whole cycle, except the packaging, is done on site, in Morgex, including the drying the plants for herbal tea, which the Bovards make cold, with the extraction of water, to ensure that the properties of these can be preserved in the best way.
The Bovard company, inherited from Elena's father, a Pascal from Morgex, remains a micro family business, as the head of the family is keen to reiterate: «Of course, it could have an important evolution, but the step to be taken is great and for now our strength is to produce what guarantees that we can be on a niche market with quality products. If there is growth, it must always be proportionate to the effort and to what the central nucleus, that is, the family, can do .
Not just saffron
In addition to saffron, La Branche grows medicinal herbs (mint in impressive quantities, lemon balm, limonine), cereals (recently they are experimenting with the cultivation of corn, a key element for the traditional Valle d'Aosta polenta) and grinds the flour; Furthermore, Diego brings the grapes of his vines into the Cave Mont Blanc cooperative, one of the largest in the Valle d'Aosta and certainly the highest (his vineyards of Prié Blanc, an indigenous white grape, are grown up to 1200 meters high), and has a consistent production of berries, among which a goji berry plant appears.
A new business? «No, Diego assures us, «there are plants with which you fall in love and others with which the spark does not go off. I would say that these berries were a challenge, but they were not love. "