Armenia meets Switzerland – the story of Sari-Safran

The story of Sari-Safran begins in Moscow. Anush and Urs met there – she from Armenia, he from Switzerland, she a businesswoman, he a photographer. That was in 1997. They get married, start a family. They have been living in Switzerland since 2008. In the summer, they go to Armenia, to Anush’s roots. And because it is so beautiful, Urs says. There are wonderful landscapes, a rich culture, a long history. They buy a house, agricultural land. The house is renovated and converted into a guesthouse. One would like to introduce the beautiful country to holiday guests. But there are also the many unemployed women. How could you give them work? Grow wine? There is a lack of know-how – and above all of water. The idea of growing saffron is born, as the first ever in Armenia. Of course, we know saffron here, Iran is not far away. The grandmother used it to dye carpets, remembers Anush, but cooked, no. And saffron tastes wonderful. And it also thrives on poor soil.

Sustainable and social: Urs and Anush found Sari-Safran, together with a good friend, also Urs. He accompanied them to Armenia in 2008. The following year again. After I really got to know the country and the people, it happened to me, he says. The idea becomes concrete: high-quality saffron, organically produced for the Swiss market. That’s one goal. The other, equally important: helpers should be paid fairly, their families actively supported.

Spring 2014: In Holland they buy 100 saffron bulbs, put them in the Armenian soil. The saffron thrives and is harvested in October 2014, for personal use. Friends who try the saffron are enthusiastic: excellent quality. The joy is enormous, the bulbs multiply. Year after year the harvest grows, as do the ambitions. The set goals are implemented: In August 2017 they buy 50,000 saffron bulbs and expand the cultivation area to 2000 square metres. Anush, Urs and Urs still take the pick into their own hands. Above all, however, the women from the surrounding area are taking care of the field. Some of them have paid work for the first time.

Autumn 2018: Premium saffron Safran is a labour-intensive product, especially if produced sustainably. Summer 2018 is hot and dry, the ground hard, the work particularly hard: blisters on the hands, aching limbs. Then comes autumn.

October 2018: Harvesting lasts four weeks, daily, before sunrise. This is important: The flowers are still half closed, the ingredients are present in the highest concentration. The violet flowers are carefully placed in large willow baskets. A little later the helpers sit at a table. They pluck the saffron threads out of the flowers one by one, but they do so in a relaxed manner, chatting and giggling. Place the threads carefully on the baking paper.

Pure saffron, laboratory-tested: Sari saffron has its deep red colour because it consists of 100 per cent stigmas – without the light yellow pistils or other components. The threads are dried for two to three days. Not in an oven, but in a slightly heated room. Crocin, picocrocin and the aromatic Safranal are thus preserved to the maximum.

Safran, category 1: The classification as category 1 saffron is due to the harvest before sunrise, the careful processing and the slow drying. The effort is worth it. In late autumn 2018 the first full harvest will reach Switzerland, where it will be carefully stored and packaged. Sari saffron is saffron for the highest standards, as confirmed by top chefs. Yes, love and care play a role in this. But the most important thing is, it gives a lot of joy: the producers and helpers, the cooks and the connoisseurs.

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