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On a farm just outside of Sacramento, hundreds of prehistoric-looking fish swim around in 50-foot diameter tanks. These are white sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in North America. They've been around since dinosaurs, can grow more than 7 feet long and lay hundreds of thousands of eggs at a time. The roe of these sturgeon are harvested for a boutique food producer regally named Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.
While a Sacramento Valley farm may seem an unlikely location for such delicacies, the white sturgeon's native habitat is just a few miles away in the Sacramento River. When wild beluga sturgeon populations in the Caspian Sea began to plummet in the 1980s from overfishing, University of California, Davis, aquaculture experts went to work to breed the species in captivity in the state.
Tsar - Nicoulai - Result - Effort - Caviar
For Tsar Nicoulai, the result of that effort has been award-winning sustainable caviar and smoked white sturgeon meat. UC Davis is also helping the company take its next eco-friendly step. Tsar Nicoulai is the first caviar farm in the world to produce food in an aquaponics system, which is a complete ecosystem that includes growing fish, plants and bacteria.
"One of our best caviars is the closest thing to a sustainable beluga sturgeon, that unctuous freshly salted farm butter flavor, the foie gras of the sea," said Ali Bolourchi, the vice president of farm operations for Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.
Bolourchi - Chef - Day - Virtues - Caviar
Bolourchi often speaks like a chef, since he spends much of his day promoting the virtues of his caviar to some of the nation's finest restaurants and retailers.
Caviar is a quality-based item, said Bolourchi, not a commodity. "It's never been about how many tons we can produce. For us, it's about how you can do a better job for the fish, for the land and ultimately produce outstanding caviar," he said.
For all its eco-attentiveness,...
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