Caviar – the Italian way

When you think of caviar and where it comes from, most people invariably note the Caspian Sea favorites- Russia and Iran in the days when sturgeon were wild-caught.

When you think of sustainable caviar production (farmed sturgeon), the story changes. The global caviar industry has since shifted to exclusively farming sturgeon for caviar production. All across the globe, from China to Israel, from Uruguay to Canada, France, Russia, and the United States- all are major caviar producers. China heads the list, caviar from China accounts for over 60% of the global production of caviar. Italy is number two, with France a close third in caviar production. Italy is number two in global caviar production?

Why so amazed- the Italians have been known for their exquisite cuisine for millennia. Italy is renowned for its superb cuisine. Italian cuisine is a specialized category of food found in every country of the world. From entrée items like their wide range of pasta, their decadent olive and cooking oils, truffles, crackers, sauces… the list is endless. Italian is also known for its excellent seafood dishes. From its array of regional soups and stews (Buridda, Cacciucco, Brodetto to name a few), stuffed swordfish, salted cod, and clam linguine- seafood is a staple in every restaurant, and on every Italian table. The country is a peninsula almost entirely surrounded by water (some parts are), so it should come as no surprise that delicious, decadent seafood is on the menu as well. Caviar included!

Historically, the sturgeon, and caviar has been a part of Italy for many centuries. It is visible in Renaissance paintings and captured in Roman sculptures. Most famously, legend has it that famed Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci once gave of the gift of a gem-encrusted box containing a sturgeon egg to Beatrice d’Este- a Milanese duchess. In 1564, Italian author Cristoforo da Messisbugo penned the first recorded recipe for caviar extraction and preparation. Beluga sturgeon thrived in the Po river in Italy in the 16th century and caviar was enjoyed as a delicious repast, making its presence into other literary works as well. In 1771, writer Jerome Lalande wrote of the sturgeon caught in the Po delta. Fishing rights in the Po river were the cause of a diplomatic war between two states in 1753- both wanting control of the sturgeon and other fishing rights. As well as other accounts.

For the better part of the early 19th century (from 1920-42), one shop the “Nuta” processed all of the sturgeon caught from the Po river, extracting the caviar for consumption using the ver-same Messisbugo recipe from 1564. The caviar was packaged and shipped across Italy and the rest of Europe until the early 1970’s when the population of sturgeon in the Po all but stopped (until it was reintroduced to the river in 2015.

Today, Italian caviar is almost exclusively produced using sustainably farmed methods. Most using only Caspian Sea sturgeon stock- to maintain the highest quality of caviar. Caviar production in Italy is predominately in Brescia- known as the capital of Italian caviar; where the largest and best sturgeon aquacultures in Italy and the world, like Calvisano, are located; producing a combined total in excess of 30 tonnes of caviar annually.  

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