About the only thing the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Black Sea have in common is the reference to color in their names. Yet, in Caldwell County NC, you’ll find an anonymous, tucked-away farm that produces one of the world’s most expensive delicacies.
The farm is a compound of long red sheds nestled behind a cornfield. It is the last place you’d expect to find a sturgeon farm. Yet this is a fish farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, producing high quality real sturgeon caviar. The company was dreamed up by four friends back in 2000, one of them was a cargo pilot who flew back and forth from Russia who loved caviar. He was also a realist and a conservationist who saw what over-fishing and the dramatic jump in caviar production after the fall of the Soviet Union would create. In 2005, the U.S. government banned the import of caviar from the Beluga sturgeon, the most expensive and sought after kind. It was the same year the farm started.
The first thing you notice about a sturgeon farm - it’s really dark, mainly for heat and cooling and also to keep the sturgeon from going into spawn. The second thing you notice are the 32 giant corrugated metal tubs. The fish tanks. Each of which is covered by what looks like a giant plastic netting so that the sturgeon don’t jump. They have around 20,000 sturgeon in these tanks from three different breeds - Atlantic, Siberian and Osetra. And any one of them could pack a wallop. Sturgeon date back to pre-historic times. Some of these armor-plated dinosaur era fish grow to five or six feet long. The caviar is completely sustainable. The eggs are purchased from a sustainable farm in Germany. When the sturgeon hatch they do so in a closed water system that circulates well water through the tanks, natural, North Carolina Blue Ridge pristine mountain water. Mature sturgeon are moved into what’s known as the staging area. One by one the fish are harvested, weighed, washed, the meat cut and smoked. The precious eggs separated out. The impurities plucked out by a steady hand and a good set of tweezers. The caviar is then lightly salted by weight and packed in a tin. Once the caviar is washed, salted and packed into bulk tins we then grade each container for overall quality, focusing on the appearance, taste and texture for our customers.