Caviar History: Part II

Caviar History: Part II

Soon after the collapse of America's sturgeon fisheries, the Russian Revolution brought a new stage in the caviar trade. The autocratic new government zealously guarded its own fishing rights. It also installed massive hatcheries on the Caspian Sea to ensure a steady supply of caviar—one of the few trade items the West was willing to buy from the Soviet Union. The Caspian Sea effectively became a vast, liquid caviar ranch. Catches were strictly limited to maximize caviar’s export prices. Unfortunately, the Caspian Sea was also a heavy industry and oil exploitation site, accompanied by frequent spills. Caviar began to grace formal events with occasional oily and petrochemical notes.

With the Soviet Union’s collapse, sturgeons’ protection collapsed as well. Hatcheries fell into disuse, and black market operators slaughtered the Caspian Sea's sturgeon. There was a time in the 1990s and 2000s when the markets drowned in cheap roes from stolen fish. Scarcely any proper caviar could be found. Soon dead sturgeon, gutted for their eggs, began to show up once again on North America’s riverbanks.

A wild sturgeon gutted for eggs. Found by a fisherman on the Fraser River, British Columbia, in 2011.

Caviar from stolen fish is often tinned hurriedly on sandbars in the middle of the night, then smuggled in hot cargo holds inside luggage. As such it is often barely edible. Much went bad and was wasted entirely; the best-case scenario was often oversalted roe with foam or yeasty, fishy, or bitter off flavors. This was caviar’s dark age. Many who first encountered it during this time remember something overpriced, foul-tasting, and incomprehensibly overrated.

This waste could only be rendered more tragic by ancient species nearly going extinct to make it.

Persephone is proud to do things differently. Our caviar comes exclusively from farms personally examined by the owner, a sustainable agricultural scientist and experienced farm inspector. Persephone uses custom criteria to exclude sources that bear the issues that most heavily affect caviar today: poor quality; environmental impacts; and caviar's now-traditional ties to smuggling and money laundering. Our growers are dedicated to one purpose only: creating the best caviar in the world.