There's "gold" in those hills! If you didn't know it was there, you probably wouldn't even notice the tiny village of Mund on the northern mountain in German-speaking upper Canton Valais. Nor would you know its saffron "gold mine".

AuteurZanotti, Bob
Fonction Feature

At first glance, there's little to distinguish Mund from all the other little mountainside villages of Switzerland, which are all very rustic and picturesque, characterised by their old wooden houses, dark brown with age--tiny retreats, where one can still escape the rigours of the world, and meditate upon the vastness and beauty of the Rhone Valley below. From up here, the everyday world seems like a million miles away. In some ways, it is.

But Mund is rather special for other reason. It's easier to identify that special factor in the warmer months, when the eye is caught by splashes of violet colour in and around the village. These are the saffron fields of Mund, the only place in Switzerland where saffron is found.

Saffron, a very special and temperamental member of the crocus family and yields the most expensive of all spices: the red powder or strands that add zest and visual appeal to many classic Mediterranean and Oriental dishes. It has also been revered for millennia for its medicinal properties.

The saffron grown in Mund has been scientifically determined to be the best in the world, and carries virtually the same price tag as gold!

Why Mund? Why Expensive?

Saffron is believed to have originated in Cashmere and brought to Spain via an Arab-North African route.

So how did saffron get to Mund? There are two main theories. According to one--locals who went to Spain on religious pilgrimages brought back the plant. The other theory professes that it came home with returning Swiss mercenaries. Both versions have their adherents, and both are plausible.

Climatically speaking, Mund is one of the driest places in Switzerland and solar exposure here is especially intense. These facts, along with the soil factors make the conditions just right for the saffron plant to thrive. All these make the microclimate of Mund similar to that of the classic saffron-growing regions of Spain and Iran--two major producing-countries in terms of quantity.

What distinguishes the saffron of Mund from all others is that it survives dilution longer than any other saffron. This is considered the acid test of saffron quality, and here, the saffron of Mund is the undisputed winner.

But the saffron plant is delicate, and the amount of precious red powder it produces is highly variable. For example, a couple of years ago, the entire annual production of saffron in Mund was only 18 kilos!

Mechanised production is impossible and each flower has to be processed by hand...

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