Not at all Iran or Russia: today the caviar that is most popular is the one made in Italy. Our country is the leading European producer of aquaculture caviar and accounts for 30% of world production. But in Italy there are few sturgeon eggs left, because 90% of them are sold abroad.
In short, in addition to the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena and Parmigiano Reggiano, Amarone and Culatello di Zibello, caviar is also holding high the flag of the finest Italian excellences. This is not surprising, given that caviar was already present (and much appreciated) in the banquets of the Renaissance courts, as attested by the recipe books of the time.
The breeding saved the sturgeon from extinction
In 2020, the production of caviar in Italy was 50 tons (source: Associazione Piscicoltori Italiani), which is almost double that of Russia and eight times that of Iran. How did this happen? Because, over the years, sturgeon fishing has been replaced by breeding, necessary to avoid the disappearance of this species, which in 1998 was included in those in danger of extinction. Intensive fishing had, in fact, drastically reduced the population of sturgeon in the Caspian and Black Seas and since 2006 wild fishing has been banned. In parallel, aquaculture has developed, which has grown and specialized, managing to safeguard many species of sturgeon and prevent their extinction. The Italians have focused big on this activity, indeed they were among the first in the world to believe in it and invest in it. Today there are about twenty sturgeon farms in business, located between Piedmont and Veneto, and most of the companies also deal with the production of caviar.
Journey among Italian producers
The largest sturgeon breeding center in Europe is located in the province of Brescia. It is that of Agroittica Lombarda, which started this activity in the late 1970s by exploiting the excess heat produced by a steel mill to heat the groundwater in which to grow the sturgeons. In 1992 the first made in Italy caviar arrived on the market, the Calvisius Tradition, characterized by large eggs and a clean and round taste. From there, the company never stopped: its caviar has conquered the world and production has increased, reaching over half of the national one. The caviar is obtained from different species of sturgeon (from the beluga to the white Pacific one to the Adriatic sturgeon), all raised in the company's sixty hectares of tanks, and is also sold in large-scale distribution under the Cavalier Caviar Club brand.
Moving to Veneto, from Breda di Piave, in the Treviso area, comes Caviar Giaveri: obtained exclusively from its own farms, where there are a dozen different species all of Russian origin, and processed on the farm, it is characterized by the manual selection of the eggs. and processing according to the Russian “malossol” method. In the Cremona area, in the spring waters of the Tormo river natural park, sturgeons grow from which the Adamas brand caviar is obtained, and of which the company controls the entire supply chain. The jewel is the golden caviar, obtained from the rare albino sturgeons (acipenser ruthenus) that are raised indoors or in sheltered places. With a golden color and a delicate taste, it is mainly used as a decoration in haute cuisine.
In Cisliano, in the province of Milan, Pisani Dossi produces Siberian and Osetra sturgeon caviar. In Cassolnovo (Pavia) there is the Ticino Sturgeon, which raises four species of sturgeon (all certified by Friend of The Sea and bearing the "Parco Ticino – Controlled Production" brand), whose caviar is sold under the Ars Italica Caviar brand. In Mantua, the Naviglio Agricultural Company has been breeding sturgeons in the waters of the Mincio since 1973 and obtains the three types of caviar under the Penseri brand: the Baerii with a strong taste, the more delicate Transmontanus and the unmistakable Beluga.
The type of sturgeon makes a difference
Of the approximately 30 known and widespread species of sturgeon from North America to Japan, from Eastern Europe to China, there are three most used for the production of caviar. The most widespread is the beluga (acipenser huso): a large fish (over a thousand kg!), long-lived and predatory, which produces very large eggs (about 2-3 mm in diameter), soft and compact, of a color ranging from light to dark gray, to intense and glossy black. Due to its extremely delicate and buttery flavor and its “melt-in-the-mouth” consistency, beluga caviar is the most requested and appreciated, and also the most expensive.
Then there is osetra caviar (also called oscietra or asetra) and it is obtained from two species of sturgeons (acipenser fueldenstaedtii And acipenser sturio): they give small, hard-boiled eggs, with a silky and creamy consistency, an intense and elegant flavor (with hints of hazelnut) and a color that changes from light gray to brown. The clearer it is, the more valuable it is.
The third species is the sevruga (acipenser stellatus), the smallest of the sturgeons (about 25 kg in weight), which gives a small caviar, whose color goes from gray to brown and the clearer it is, the more valuable it is. Compact and crunchy, it is definitely tastier and gives a marked sensation of the sea.
Watch out for salt (and service)
The Italian companies adopt the Russian technique called “malossol”, ie with a low salt content (less than 4% of the weight of the caviar), reserved for high quality eggs both in terms of freshness and degree of ripeness. This is why made in Italy caviar has a delicate taste and is relatively sweet, so much so that it can be tasted naturally, without the need to accompany it with buttered croutons, sour cream or eggs to cushion the salinity, as was done in the past. Today, to fully appreciate it, just serve it very cold (two or three degrees below zero), picking it up with a non-metallic spoon (otherwise the taste changes) and accompanying it with boiled potatoes or blinis. But caviar also makes a great impression on risotto and spaghetti, and also with delicate fish. Starting right from the sturgeon.