In this instalment of The Produce Index, Richard Cornish investigates an off-grid micro-business producing the world's most expensive spice on old gold-mining country near Bendigo.

What is it?
Squirrel Gully Saffron produces a range of products based on hand-picked saffron threads grown on a small farm in central Victoria. Late each autumn, from the bare earth comes a single pale pink flower from the bulb of the crocus flower. The scarlet stigmas are carefully removed by hand, dried, packed into small glass vials and sealed. Some of the saffron is infused in salt, and some with local honey. Squirrel Gully puts together paella kits and saffron cultured butter kits, which are popular with patrons at farmers’ markets. The owners also have other plants growing on the farms and make other products with their produce, including a saffron and pear shrub.

Who makes it?
Rosie Pamic and Drew Black moved to the country almost 10 years ago to live off-grid on a four-hectare block. Pamic had worked in food, so she knew that without power or a good supply of water she couldn’t grow thirsty crops like berries, “nor anything that required energy to cook or refrigerate,” she says, “so we settled on growing saffron, which is low-yielding, high-value, doesn’t need a lot of water and is fast to dry”.

Where is it made?
The saffron is grown at Dunolly between Ballarat and Bendigo on degraded country mined during the gold rush. Saffron grows from corms, small bulbs the size of a grape. Originally from the dryer parts of the Mediterranan and the Middle East, the saffron crocus emerges in the cooler autumn, grows over winter and dies off before the heat of summer. The climate around Dunolly reflects saffron’s original habitat but the old, compacted soils of area mean the corms need to be planted in large containers of in free-draining soil above ground. Worms keep the soil fertile and well-aerated. The height of the containers also protects the crocuses from rabbits and wallabies.

Why it’s different
The flowers are picked by hand, and the stigmas carefully removed and slowly dried. The saffron has deep earthy tones, grassy aromas, and notes of honey. Unlike non-organic imported saffron, Squirrel Gully saffron is grown without pesticides, and it sells out quickly each season. The saffron-infused honey and salt have intense saffron aromas, and a little can bring a lush, exotic saffron flavour to both sweet and savoury dishes.

Who’s a fan?
Tim Foster is the executive chef and co-owner of the historic Goldmines Hotel in Bendigo and has supported Squirrel Gully Saffron since the first commercial crop was harvested in 2019. “I love the way Rosie adds value to her saffron. I use the saffron-infused orange blossom honey in a bavarois that sits with a saffron-flavoured sponge and crunchy burned saffron honey biscuit.” Tim seasons his risotto with a sprinkle of saffron salt and uses the threads in a Syrian-inspired chicken braise with turmeric, garlic, ginger, lemons, currants and mint. Down in Dromana at the Mornington Peninsula’s Trofeo Estate, chef Steve Davidson tosses threads of Squirrel Gully saffron through hand-rolled trofie pasta, which sits under a thick fillet of pan-roasted barramundi, paried with eggplant and black vinegar jam and a smoked-almond gazpacho. “Rosie makes a remarkably good product,” he says.

Get yours now
You can find Squirrel Gully Saffron at the Bendigo Farmers’ Market and online at

By Richard Cornish