Insider Insights About Caviar

Insider Insights on Caviar

Serious consideration of Caviar is a sobering exercise, combining euphoric hedonism and a glum obituary. The unpleasant truth is, for all intents and purposes we have already run out of caviar. That’s why it’s so expensive.

This wasn’t always the case. At one time the U.S. dominated the world of caviar. In 1873, an enterprising immigrant named Henry Schact established a caviar business on the Delaware River near Chester, Pennsylvania. An unbelievable 670 tons of caviar per year was produced there, almost all of which was exported to Europe. Much of that Pennsylvanian caviar was then “re-imported” back to the U.S. and sold in America as “Russian,” commanding the unheard of price of 6 cents per ounce. The finest grade of caviar still available now sells for $75 an ounce.

Fish produce eggs called “roe.” In 1966 the labeling of roe from whitefish, carp, and paddlefish as “caviar” was outlawed. The term “caviar” can now only be applied to the eggs of a Sturgeon fish. As far as the Food & Drug Administration is concerned, those jars of salty red and yellow roe found on delicatessen shelves are just “fish eggs,” not caviar. Highest quality caviar is always “Malossol,” meaning packed with very little salt. Malossol is not a brand.

Experienced connoisseurs prize caviar not for color but for the size of the eggs, or “berries” as they are called. The larger the sturgeon, the bigger the berry. A giant beluga sturgeon can weigh more than 2,000 pounds, be up to 50 years old, and will produce huge valuable eggs. This kind of sturgeon is the source of beluga caviar. The smaller osetra sturgeon is only 12-15 years old, and produces tinier, less precious caviar.

Ninety-five percent of the world’s caviar comes from the Caspian Sea. There is nothing magical about the Caspian as a source of caviar, it’s simply where the biggest Sturgeon live. Or used to live, for in the last few years the population of Sturgeon in the Caspian Sea has gone from 200 million to less than 60 million fish. It takes a minimum of 9 years for a female sturgeon to produce eggs, so it’s easy to understand how nature struggles to sustain this resource.

And that’s just the biological dilemma. A deadly combination of illegal fishing and devastating pollution has ravaged the Caspian sturgeon. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 created five independent nations (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan) all competing for the prized fish. These besieged governments haven’t kept up with poachers or even begun to address the massive pollution. The United Nations reports that 10 billion cubic yards of contaminated waste is dumped into the Caspian region every year.

It is not a question of IF we will run out of wild caviar but WHEN.

The unrestricted harvesting of ancient sturgeon from the Caspian Sea is the aquatic equivalent of chopping down the Giant Redwood forest. Aquaculture may provide a reliable future source of sturgeon producing caviar, but farming a crop that takes 15 years to bring to market is an awesome challenge. Nevertheless, a few companies in Northern California, with the cooperation of scientists at the University of California at Davis, are starting to bring small amounts of cultured caviar to the marketplace.

FARM 2 MARKET offers three unique varieties of caviar, PLUS our “BORN IN THE USA Caviar Sampler.” This exotic roster gives caviar lovers a menu of enlightened choices.

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