Can caviar from North Carolina stand up to the cheaper Chinese product? A local farm tries to get Americans to bite
The chamber inside LaPaz Farm is so clean it almost feels like an operating room. Before we walked into the room, Sabine Mader, the manager of the farm, asks us to put on white coats, gloves and hair nets and a beard net for my husband. Inside the chamber, a fish-cutter is waiting with a freshly dispatched, female Russian sturgeon on the table, one of five to be harvested today.
He deftly slices open the fish and pulls back the meat, revealing a wave of grey-black roe in the ovaries. It is the culinary equivalent of an old-fashioned coin purse slit down the middle with a treasure hidden inside. The treasure, in this case, is osetra caviar.
There isnt much time. A team of two has 30 minutes to weigh, clean, salt, taste and jar these black pearls before they lose quality. No one likes mushy caviar, Mader tells us.
Mader oversees LaPaz farm in Lenoir, North Carolina, set in the Happy Valley region about 90 minutes north-west of Charlotte. Combined with its sister farm, Marshallberg Farm in Smyrna along the North Carolina coast, LaPaz is the largest source of farm-raised Russian sturgeon in the United States.
In these seemingly modest buildings, an ambitious experiment in sustainability is going on, bowl by bowl of harvested caviar. LaPaz and Marshallberg Farms are striving to show the economics of this business can work, that farming Russian sturgeon now endangered in the wild can be viable even profitable in the United States as a sustainable source of caviar.
These farms were set up in response to the troubling trends for wild caviar. Beluga caviar, the coveted gold standard of this luxurious delicacy, has been banned from import into the United States since 2005, because the sturgeon that provide the ever-popular fish eggs are endangered. There is even a ban on fishing Russian sturgeon, the source of osetra, in its natural habitat, the Caspian Sea. Any osetra caviar promoted as wild is either from the black market or not really osetra caviar.
Farming in the US has emerged as a possible alternative. But there are many challenges, from questions about animal rights, to the flavor of farm-raised caviar versus wild, to, most notably, whether American farms can raise awareness of the value of homegrown caviar when caviar imported from China is cheaper.
Article Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us