I’m sitting here mulling over comments posted by lunchbill about last week’s blog, a report of an evening at Michael Stadtländer’s Eigensinn Farm. “What’s to get,” asks lunchbill, “the co-opting of nature and country life by an elitist, wealthy, urban culture? Some people do get ‘it’ and realize that some other people need to return to reality.” I’m not sure if he/she objects to Stadtländer (born and raised on a farm near Lubeck) owning and working his farm in Ontario and subsidizing the operation by feeding people in his dining room, or if the problem is people from the city going out into the countryside in order to eat. I don’t see anything particularly reprehensible in either scenario. It seems to me Stadtländer did return to an earthy, honest reality when he gave up the urban rat race and started farming organically 13 years ago. And I can’t think of a less elitist human being than Michael—artist, social activist and environmentalist, yes, but not elitist.
I hope lunchbill won’t think I’m taunting her/him if we now turn our thoughts to a very elite treat—caviar. Ever since CITES, the U.N. Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species that controls the industry, imposed a much-needed moritorium on international trade in all Caspian Sea caviar, sturgeon caviar has been in very short supply. Chefs and others who love the stuff have tried to keep track of the progress of sturgeon farms in the U.S. and Europe and have striven to get their hands on any of the wild Canadian sturgeon caviar coming out of Abitibi. Marché Transatlantique, a Quebec firm, has the best of the Abitibi product, provided by a 77 year-old fisherman in the north of the province. It’s freshwater sturgeon and therefore tastes different from Caspian caviar but the riverbeds there are clean stones, not mud, and the flavour of the roe is excellent.
Now the same company is importing farmed caviar from Aquitaine in the southwest of France. There used to be wild sturgeon in France until the 1950s when overfishing wiped out the species. In the 1980s, French and Soviet scientists worked together to try and introduce Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser baeri) to the Gironde, Dordogne and other rivers, but without success. As part of the process, however, they did figure out how to breed these sturgeon in captivity and the first French sturgeon farms were established in 1992. It takes a decade for a female sturgeon to reach sexual maturity, but today there are four major operations there farming (this year) a total of 12 tons of caviar—which makes France the world’s biggest caviar producer.
Bruno Marie, president of Marché Transatlantique, tried the French roe six years ago and thought it was terrible. Three years later, processing and salting techniques had dramatically improved and Marie saw a future for the product in Canada. It has taken him another three years to secure the rights to import it, but now the first shipment is here, CIFA approved. The eggs are dark-grey to black in colour, about the size of sevruga. They’re soft but by no means mushy and have a deliciously rich flavour with a bittersweet note that lasts and lasts on the palate. If you want some, phone Marché Tranatlantique at 1-800-394 3530. The French caviar costs $55 for 30 grams and ships by courier overnight.