Situated in an obscure patch of Paris between the Marais and the less chic Place de la République, Goumanyat & Son Royaume is not an ordinary spice emporium. Set in what was once an apothecary shop, it is open only four afternoons a week and from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse are among the star chefs who buy spices there. You have to ring to be let in. You are greeted by the tinkle of a wind chime and the expertise of the owner, Jean Thiercelin.
Ed Alcock for The New York TimesThe shop's signature product is the noblest of spices: saffron, which the Thiercelin family has been buying, packaging and selling since 1809 when saffron was cultivated near their small farm in the Loiret region of France, where they made wine and vinegar. A glass canister filled with red-yellow saffron strands (the pistils of the crocus sativus) sits on a display table. Nearby are samples of other saffron products: chocolate rounds, rock candy, caramels and square calissons, the French confection of ground almonds, candied fruit paste and white icing.
“It's like going into a jewelry store in an out-of-the way neighborhood,” says Mary Hyman, an American historian of French food. In addition to saffron, the “jewels” include pink Himalayan rock salt, crystallized mimosa, Tahitian vanilla and rosemary syrup.
The Thiercelins are so devoted to saffron that a decade ago the family bought a small farm 150 miles south of the shrine city of Mashhad in Iran, where most of the world's saffron is grown.
Mr. Thiercelin, who speaks English, enjoys educating his customers. He will tell you how it takes 150,000 crocus flowers to make a kilo of saffron, that saffron is the oldest medicinal herb, that there are ways to identify counterfeit saffron. He will open the small bottles and invite you to smell Al-Andalus (a blend of four peppers) or perhaps Aphrodite (dried roses, saffron and ginger).
In bulk, powdered saffron would cost thousands of dollars a pound. But for 4.80 euros, about $7.10 at $1.48 to the euro, you can buy a packet with four doses of 125 milligrams of saffron powder — enough to season four dishes for four people. Asked what the tall glass jar of saffron would cost, he smiles and says, “I'll give you a good price.”
Goumanyat & Son Royaume, 3 rue Charles-Francois Dupuis, 75003 Paris; (33-1) 4478-9674; www.goumanyat.com.