Caviar, the food often connected with high-end events, parties, and cocktail receptions.
Once consumed freely by everybody for a peanut of its today’s price, it steadily grew in value and popularity.
Overfishing, obstacles in rivers systems such as damns and pollution - these are the major factors that crippled the caviar supply.
Sturgeon is the fish responsible for this delight we call caviar but when it began disappearing the price of caviar went up.
This is the background setting for our story.
STURGEON ALL AROUND THE WORLD.
Caviar, the roe of the sturgeon, salted and packed in tins or jars. This is the delicacy that the world is crazy about.
It’s not just the taste, but also the benefits: eating fish roe gets you closer to nature, keeping you fresh and young. The Japanese, who have a culture of roe eating, always knew this.
Although caviar is a delight, there is some real hard work put behind its production.
These days all caviar production is happening in aquaculture farms around the globe. Poaching, pollution and damming severely decreased the wild surgeon population. Their native habitats are mostly the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, the Pacific and the Great Lakes. They swim upstream where they spawn.
Aquaculture facilities mimic the fresh waters they swim in. These centers have begun spurring all around the world: Israel, the USA, Italy, France, South Korea, China, Uruguay, and many more. Of course the golden producers, Russia and Iran, are still in the race but their significance greatly diminished.
A lot of these centers don’t look much, that would be the first impression of a passer-by, but the magic happens inside.
CAVIAR IS CHARMING, ITS PRODUCTION NOT SO MUCH.
Hard work and effort is maintained to bring only the best of the best to the consumers’ table. It’s not like a pig farm where you shoot for quantity. Every caviar farmer knows that quality will determine their fate.
The sturgeon is fish that often reaches maturity after at least a decade. They are prehistoric fish, dinosaurs if you will. Their life cycle is slow and it takes time for them to reach maturity. For all this time the water must be pristine fresh, food – nothing short of what the fish would have in the wild.
When the harvesting day draws near, a dedicated worker jumps into the fish tank armed with an ultrasound. This is a procedure followed by all caviar farmers. The goal is to determine whether the female reached maturity, and if she did, in what condition are the eggs.
When the roe is not there yet, when it’s too early it will have some kind of a fatty flavor and there will be no crisp and cleanliness that caviar-lovers prefer. But if you get there too late, the eggs will be milky and mushy.
Experts recommend harvesting three days before the sturgeon is ready to spawn. That’s when they retain the maximum flavor, but how is this “harvest” performed?
The fish are stunned, either by a blow to the head or some similar technique. Before that they are removed from the pond and transferred to a room that usually resembles an operating room. Top-notch farms have it down to the last detail, even pressurized to reduce bacterial contamination so that no outside air can enter while the eggs are being treated.
The “master” makes a cut along the sturgeons’ stomach. What happens next is described by witnesses as breathtaking. It is almost like a black pillow was underneath the skin. A huge portion, as roe can take more than 12% of the weight of the entire fish.
This is all manual labor as the operation is delicate and requires swift and yet soft hands. The ovaries, which resemble a black pillow, are rubbed across a mesh screen by applying pressure from the palm of the hand. The membrane holds millions of eggs. After the eggs are rinsed and impurities and imperfections extracted, the caviar is measured.
The next step is to combine it with salt. This is the step where procedures vary. One of them implies that the roe is left in the salt for several hours and then packed. One other requires less salt and less time. Different producers will opt for different approaches. It is important to remember that if kneaded too much, the eggs might turn into pulp. Too little and the caviar will be immature.
Generally caviar is not pasteurized, but this can also take place. This in effect strips some of the quality from the delicacy but extends its shelf life. Pasteurized caviar is immersed in 140 degrees F water for 2½ hours and refrigerated at 35 degrees F.
Caviar is either sealed in small tins in various sizes or packed in bigger containers up to 1kg.
There is also one more method. Since the sturgeon can’t survive the process, this other method, called Vivace GmbH, uses an injection of a signaling protein, days before the fish is going to be “milked”. This protein in turn induces labor and releases the eggs from a membranous sack from the belly cavity. A skilled worker only has to gently massage the belly of the sturgeon and the fish will release the eggs.
This method has started to get more and more attention as it is not only the sturgeon that benefits but also the producer as he has a chance to harvest the sturgeon again after only a year. The fish, depending on the species can live several decades and this will prove to be hugely important to the producer who spent a decade in raising the fish.
Caviar is not only expensive because it is rare, but also because there is some hard labor behind its production.
The quality of the production is the sole thing that determines the quality of the caviar. As I have mentioned before, Bond Caviar has a really unique selection, maybe because the quality of work and effort put into every jar and tin is not something you can see every day.
The end result is something delightfull, a single teaspoon is enough to understand the amount of effort that was invested to bring caviar onto your table.