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The caviar produced in DEVON! Fish farm becomes first in Britian to sell expensive delicacy

  • Exmoor Caviar Farm in Devon is the first fish farm in Britain to sell delicacy
  • Celebrity chefs have already sampled farm’s produce 
  • Caviar is difficult to produce as fish don’t produce eggs at the same time
  • The farm is home to 20,000 to 30,000 Sturgeon fish kept in holding tanks
  • A  30g jar is £59.99, while 250g pots cost £500 from Exmoor Caviar Farm

By
David Wilkes


PUBLISHED:

06:39 EST, 19 November 2013


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UPDATED:

18:44 EST, 19 November 2013

The world’s finest caviar is harvested from sturgeon in waters around Russia, Iran… and now Devon.

The exotic delicacy, known as black gold for its exorbitant price tag, is being made in Britain for the first time.

Father and son team Patrick and George Noble used to breed sturgeon to sell as ornamental fish for garden ponds.

Exmoor Caviar Farm in Devon has become the first fish farm in Britain to produce and sell caviar after harvesting Sturgeon eggs

Exmoor Caviar Farm in Devon has become the first fish farm in Britain to produce and sell caviar after harvesting Sturgeon eggs

The farm had its first full harvest just two weeks ago and has already had its produce sampled by celebrity chefs

The farm had its first full harvest just two weeks ago and has already had its produce sampled by celebrity chefs

Now, they have teamed up with caviar
trader Kenneth Benning to produce caviar they hope will outdo the farmed
European versions commonly sold in Britain.

But first, they had to ask a very important person for her permission.

Sturgeon,
extremely rare in the UK, is classified as a royal fish under ancient
law, meaning the monarch has to be consulted before any caught here are
sold.

So the team wrote to the Queen to ask if they could start a farm.

Yesterday Mr Benning said: ‘We didn’t want to end up in the Tower. We got a letter back from Buckingham Palace saying she would forego her royal prerogative and the sturgeon would be our property.’

Producing caviar is a slow and complex process.

Unfertilised
roe – tiny eggs, which are the main ingredient – are extracted from
female sturgeon when they reach reproductive maturity, which can be at
anything from six to 25 years old, depending on the species.

The farm is home to six different species of Sturgeon, like the Siberian Sturgeon pictured here with one of the farm's owners, Pat Noble

The farm is home to six different species of Sturgeon, like the Siberian Sturgeon pictured here with one of the farm’s owners, Pat Noble

Between 20,000 and 30,000 Sturgeon are kept in holdable tanks. Caviar is notoriously difficult to produce as the fish do not mature at the same time, and therefore produce eggs at varying points in their lives

Between 20,000 and 30,000 Sturgeon are kept in holdable tanks. Caviar is notoriously difficult to produce as the fish do not mature at the same time, and therefore produce eggs at varying points in their lives

Water from the River Mole is used at the farm and is not controlled by temperature or adjusted with chemicals

Water from the River Mole is used at the farm and is not controlled by temperature or adjusted with chemicals

Mr
Benning added: ‘The big farms elsewhere produce about 35 tons of caviar
a year. If we can produce 500kg a year we’ll be happy – we’re going for
quality not quantity.’

The
Exmoor Caviar Farm in North Devon has between 20,000 and 30,000 fish,
which enjoy a ‘semi-wild’, non-caged life in 700-hectare freshwater
lakes.

Among them are
various types of sturgeon including Siberian, which produce 1.5kg (53oz)
of caviar each, and a Beluga-Sterlet cross, which produces 400g (14oz).

The farm's only addition to eggs is Hebridean or Cornish sea salt. Mr Benning explains how both variations need to be ground to a thin powder before being sprinkled over the caviar to add flavour
The only addition to the eggs is sea salt to add flavour. Jars of caviar start at £59.99 at the farm where the most expensive pot is £500

The only addition to the eggs is sea salt to add flavour. Sturgeon have been classified ‘Royal’ since the 1300s when they were given the name by King Edward II

Exmoor Caviar Company produced two variations of produce in its first full harvest, using Cornish and Hebridean sea salt to add a little flavour to the eggs

Exmoor Caviar Company produced two variations of produce in its first full harvest, using Cornish and Hebridean sea salt to add a little flavour to the eggs

In
order to make the fish grow, the water temperature at caviar farms is
usually kept at 22C, but the Exmoor project uses fresh running water,
which is not controlled.

Mr
Benning said: ‘The water on our farm comes straight from the River Mole
in the Exmoor National Park and it has no chemicals or temperature
regulations.

‘This gives the caviar a wonderful taste, although it can mean it takes the sturgeon a longer period of time to grow.’

After years of waiting, the team took in their first full harvest a fortnight ago.

And
according to Michelin-starred chefs Michel Roux Junior from Le Gavroche
in London and Mark Hix from Hix Soho, they haven’t done too badly.

In
a testimonial on the farm’s website,  Mr Roux said: ‘You have all of
the British  sturgeon’s royal history, the location of the farm in Devon… It’s brilliant. I think you are on to a winner.’

The farm's only addition to eggs is Hebridean or Cornish sea salt. Mr Benning explains how both variations need to be ground to a thin powder before being sprinkled over the caviar to add flavour
Sturgeon have been classified 'Royal' since the 1300s when they were given the name by King Edward II

Sturgeon have been classified ‘Royal’ since the 1300s when they were given the name by King Edward II

Not only are Sturgeon rarely seen in the UK but the process of harvesting their eggs is made notoriously difficult by a number of factors, making caviar such a sought after delicacy
Not only are Sturgeon rarely seen in the UK but the process of harvesting their eggs is made notoriously difficult by a number of factors, making caviar such a sought after delicacy

Not only are Sturgeon rarely seen in the UK but the process of harvesting their eggs is made notoriously difficult by a number of factors, making caviar such a sought after delicacy

Harry Ferguson from the London Fine food company with one of the first crop of British caviar at the farm. The Exmoor Caviar Company has received raving reviews from customers including chef, Mark Hix
Harry Ferguson from the London Fine food company with one of the first crop of British caviar at the farm. The Exmoor Caviar Company has received raving reviews from customers including chef, Mark Hix

Harry Ferguson from the London Fine food company with one of the first crop of British caviar at the farm. The Exmoor Caviar Company has received raving reviews from customers including chef, Mark Hix

Ultimate luxury

Mr Hix said: ‘British caviar – who would have thought it?

‘From the South West, a fish that once bred in our rivers and has now gone is back. Farmed? Yes and extremely sustainable.’

Sat
Bains, whose Nottingham restaurant has two Michelin stars and who
appeared on BBC cookery show Great British Menu, commented: ‘Exmoor
Caviar is delicious and as good as any I’ve tasted. I also love the fact
that it is from a sustainable and ethical source.’

After the eggs are removed from the females, they are washed, hand-sieved and then rested, and Cornish sea salt is added.

Mr
Benning, who owns caviar wholesaler Shah Caviar, said meat from the
female fish, which are killed in harvesting, has been sent to top chefs
in the hope they will find ways of putting it on their menus.
The finished product comes in tins as small as 10g – which is lucky, since even then, prices start at £19.99.

Just
30g costs £59.95, while it is £99.95 for 50g, £249.95 for 125g and £500
for 250g – but that is still less than half the price of the most
sought-after Beluga caviar, which comes mainly from the Caspian Sea.

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