The Staff Canteen find out more about Sturia Haute-Couture Caviar with Classic Fine Foods UK

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 23rd October 2017

This month Sturia Haute-Couture Caviar and Classic Fine Foods UK took two Michelin-starred chefs Michael Wignall and Hervé Deville to Bordeaux.

The reason for this trip? To show the chefs the process behind the product and to allow them to get hands on, literally, with the sturgeon which produce it.

Sturia Caviar timeline

0-6 months:
From egg to larva: growth in the hatchery.

6 months-3 years:
Pre-fattening in pools before sexing:
We were the first to begin using ultrasound
scans to determine the sex of sturgeons.

3-7 years:
Farming of the females in ponds:
Determination of the moment for fishing
using ultrasound (full gonads) and a biopsy
to test the quality of the caviar.

sturgeon

Caviar is not as unattainable as it once was, considered only available to the rich now anyone can get their hands on it, it’s even stocked in supermarkets; BUT high quality caviar is still an elite market and it goes through a very specific process and rigorous checks to be classed as such.

How many years does it take for female sturgeon to produce caviar?

When you consider it takes seven years for a Baerii sturgeon (Aquitaine Caviar) and nine years for a Gueldenstaedtii sturgeon (Oscietra Caviar) to reach maturity, and males can only be distinguished from females after 3 years - it’s understandable that these products come with a hefty price tag.

Sturia Haute-Couture Caviar is distributed in the UK by Classic Fine Foods and is based in the historical heart of caviar in France: the Aquitaine region and they have 8 sites for the farming and production of caviar:

  • 1 hatchery – the biggest in Europe
  • 6 fish farms
  • 1 caviar-preparation laboratory

Greatly involved in the 'Caviar d'Aquitaine' PGI process, Sturia say: "We are committed to defending our product made from fish born, bred and slaughtered in Aquitaine."

A leading company in its sector for over 20 years, Sturia says ‘it is a pioneer in sturgeon farming for caviar production and special attention is given to the ecological balance of the natural environment’. The fish are grown in ponds on Sturia’s own farms in the Aquitaine region.

Hervé Deville, the executive chef at Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch, already uses the caviar on his afternoon tea. In fact he is Classic Fine Food’s biggest caviar client in London taking a whopping 20 kilos a month.

He said: “I really enjoyed seeing the fish at the farm, and seeing the whole process – we know the caviar but getting to that end product has always been a bit of a secret. So it was a great opportunity to learn about the product.”

How is caviar produced and harvested?

On the trip we were taken to where the caviar production site where we saw the process of removing the sturgeon eggs. At maturity, a female weighs around 10 kg and will give 10% of her weight in caviar.

Sturia caviar
Sturia caviar

Michael Wignall, from two Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park said: “I was surprised at how simple the process actually was.”
He added: “The industry is awash with caviar suppliers now and it’s alright to send us a tin to taste but actually seeing the whole production and the welfare of the fish – that makes a big difference.”

Caviar is a seasonal product and fishing is carried out from September to March. Sturia caviar is entirely prepared by hand in the laboratory. The eggs are slightly salted in the 'Malossol' tradition and at the time of production, they sort the grains according to size, colour, taste and firmness in order to offer the highest-quality selections.

Hervé said: “What I really wanted to do was taste the caviar without salt and we got to do that which was great. It was quite surprising that you can have such a different taste from the same product.”

In order to offer consistent quality, the eggs are tasted at every stage of the process: from the live fish (by biopsy), during caviar production, during the maturing period and before shipping.

The blending stage – which only the producer can perform – enables exceptional batches to be identified and a commercial range to be put together. It involves sorting by experts according to colour, size, firmness and taste criteria. This allows for a complete collection of personalised caviars.

While in the Sturia store room which was packed with caviar tins, Michael asked what the room of tins was worth, our guide did not want to say!

Sturgeon farming

Today sturgeon farming is the best protection against the disappearance of this species, a victim of overfishing it has almost disappeared from the natural environment. Local sourcing is favoured, and the larvae do not travel more than 100 km between the hatchery.

caviar diagram

We were fortunate to visit one of the farms and Michael and Herve both got in the water with the fish to see them up close.

Ways to taste caviar...

*On the hand, like the professionals
Close your first and place the equivalent of a spoonful of caviar on the flat part of your hand below your thumb. Observe, then swallow the caviar. Roll the grains over your palate for as long as
possible.

*With a spoon, the simple way - to preserve its freshness, serve the tin of caviar simply placed on a bed of ice. Then taste it with a small spoon to appreciate its particularly crunchy eggs that roll in the mouth.

*In cuisine, as an amuse-bouche or on a dish. You can serve caviar on blinis, small potatoes cut in half, or on a soft-boiled egg – as an amusebouche or appetiser. In cuisine, it may be used on a langoustine tartare or oyster jelly. Delicately
placed at the end of cooking, it will make a sea bass pavé sublime...

“It’s good to see where the sturgeon is raised and how they breed it,” explained Michael. “I’m a great believer that if you use something on your menu, you need to know where it is from and how it has been treated – that’s the most important thing.”

Farming represents a veritable alternative to fishing and makes it possible to maintain a species that, without it, would have totally disappeared.

Sturia caviar
Checking the size of the eggs

"The Guyenne hatchery is an essential player in the repopulation programme of the Gironde estuary, led by the National French Science and Technology Research Institute for the Environment and Agriculture, IRSTEA (formerly CEMAGREF).

Caviar tasting

This trip would not be complete without a tasting, the chefs sampled seven different types including Sturia Grand Cru, Classic, Oscietra and Vintage.

The final treat was a Sturia Beluga caviar, the Beluga sturgeon can take up to 20 years to mature and as a result it is the most expensive caviar you can buy. A 30g tin from Sturia will cost you 172 euros and for 200g you can expect to pay over 1000 euros.

Both chefs agreed they learned a lot from seeing the process from start to finish, saying it’s important for chefs to see where the ingredients they use come from.

And Vincent Goutteratel, head of account management at Classic fine Foods UK explained: “For us it’s important to invite chefs and show them where the product comes from, we were very proud to have such talented chefs on this trip with us.

"The caviar market is very competitive but we believe Sturia are very good at they do and we hope trips like this will strengthen our relationship with them.”

He added: “It’s been a real experience!”

For more information on Sturia go to www.sturia.com  and to contact Classic Fine Foods UK click here 



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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 23rd October 2017

The Staff Canteen find out more about Sturia Haute-Couture Caviar with Classic Fine Foods UK