In the run-up to Terra Madre Armenia, the Ark of Taste welcomes its thousandth passenger, the Shalakh apricot from the slopes of Mount Ararat...
Mount Ararat towers on the horizon, covered by a mantle of clouds. Ruslan Torosyan, leader of the Slow Food Ararat Convivium, points to the mountain and smiles: "Up there is where Noah's Ark ran aground after the flood, it's written in Genesis and also Marco Polo's Milione. Every year dozens of expeditions still search for the remains."
Though its 5,165-meter-high peak is now in Turkish territory, Mount Ararat dominates the skyline from Armenia's capital Yerevan. Its outline can also be seen in the middle of the country's coat of arms, in which an eagle and a lion, the symbols of the historic reining families, hold up a shield depicting the Ark on top of the mountains.
Here, on the Armenian slopes of Mount Ararat, Slow Food is celebrating an important milestone: The Ark of Taste is welcoming its thousandth passenger. Launched in 1996 during the first Salone del Gusto in Turin, the Ark of Taste is an international catalog that lists food products, livestock breeds and edible plant varieties at risk of extinction, along with inextricably linked traditions and knowledge.
Over the years, nominations have arrived from all over the world, from Bolivia to Australia. Hundreds of mindful people, inspired by the Slow Food association network, have sent nomination forms to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The list of foods like honeys, cured meats and vegetable varieties has grown every year. These are products whose disappearance would endanger an entire economic, social and cultural heritage.
To date, the Ark has collected passengers from 60 countries, including American plains bison from the United States and Caatinga passion fruit from Brazil among many others. Each nomination is examined by the International Ark of Taste Commission and by the relevant National Commission. There are around 20 of these national commissions, made up of volunteers from professions linked to the project - journalists, botanists, veterinarians, writers, etc. If the nomination is accepted, its inclusion in the catalog serves as an initial form of promotion, and is often a first step towards the implementation of a more complex project, like a Presidium.
Ruslan, an agronomist, happily shows Ark passenger number 1,000. "The first traces of apricots in Armenia date back 3,000 years, and there are dozens of native varieties," he says, opening his hand. The Shalakh apricot that Ruslan proudly presents is a large, soft, sweet and juicy fruit. It can weigh up to 100 grams and is used in many traditional preparations including jam, here called maraba. The Shalakh variety grows in the Ararat Valley near Yerevan. Each house usually has a few trees in the garden for domestic consumption, but the international market has been invaded by more productive hybrids that carry the same name, and the authentic Shalakh apricot risks disappearing.
With the variety's entrance into the Ark, Slow Food Ararat is hoping to save at least a piece of this rich local tradition. Biodiversity protection will be among the main themes at Terra Madre Armenia, which will be held for the first time on August 6 this year. Around 60 delegates will meet at the Yerevan Agricultural University, where they will discuss the short distribution chain, taste education and the Ark of Taste. After welcoming its thousandth passenger, the Ark will set off once again in search of new products to save around the world.
Find out more:
The Ark of Taste
Terra Madre Armenia