We don’t say it enough, France has become a major caviar producing country. But after the imposition of a 20% value-added tax, the sector feels shunned by some great chefs and punished by public authorities.
Rare are products that spark so many fantasies, curiosity and above all passion. The term “caviar” which means “fish eggs” in Russian remains synonymous with luxury, wealth, rarity, splendor and refinement…
Some love large, small black pearls from Sevruga, Osetra, Pyre, or Shrinky. It is difficult to imagine that French fish farmers are hiding behind such names reminiscent of the plains of Russia or Kazakhstan. Because for several years France has climbed to the top three producers of caviar in the world, with a production of 42 tons in 2019, behind China and Italy. More specifically, the Aquitaine region, where 90% of French volumes are produced.
the story He says that the Girondin fishermen traditionally caught very many sturgeons coming from the Gironde for their flesh, and kept the eggs of the females for … chickens and pigs. Still according to legend, a wealthy Russian exile from the dynasty of the Czars, residing in the area, introduced the art of collecting and tasting precious eggs. Begun this mysterious princess or not, several bailiffs then proceeded to collect sturgeon eggs and salt them to turn into caviar.
In the 1920s, under the auspices of Émile Prunier, a Paris restaurateur, Aquitaine caviar was delivered twenty-four to forty-eight hours after it was produced, and allowed to be tasted by all of Paris during the Roaring Twenties.
A hundred years later, the jewels of tricolor sturgeon eggs gathered together, Aquitaine caviar. At the helm is Laurent Doliot, president of Kaviar-Sturgeon which, with its Sturia brand, acts as a heavyweight. In 2019, it produced 20 tons of caviar, more than half of French production, and had a turnover of €11.5 million (including 50% for export). This is 2 tons more than in 2018, and 9 more than in 2011. The four members of this group, Caviar Prunier Factory, Kaviar (Sturia), L’Esturgeonnière and Caviar de France, defend the merits of the French breeding sector.
Because since 1982, sturgeon fishing has been banned due to the depletion of this endemic group due to overfishing and the disappearance of its spawning grounds. Furthermore, since the 2008 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the import of Caspian caviar is no longer licensed for 183 signatory countries.
To protect the species, Cemagref, a public research institute, introduced another sturgeon as an experimental model in the 1970s, Acipenser baeri, which has a freshwater cycle. Siberian sturgeon is well adapted to French territory, and will gradually develop on farms in the southwest. “By developing the sturgeon farming sector, in particular baeri and oscietra, we help protect these protected species that are subject to a national action plan for conservation and restoration,” explains Laurent Dulau, President of Sturia. With the Caviar d’Aquitaine Association, we have developed very strict specifications. Our goal: to be part of a healthy, sustainable and transparent logic. The four producers are committed to raising sturgeon with respect for animal welfare, without the use of hormones, antibiotics, GMOs and PAT (transformed animal proteins). We have created a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) to defend and promote our values of ethical production and knowledge. »
Leather with sturgeon skins
To make his point, head to Charente-Maritime, to Saint-Genis-de-Saintonge, between Bordeaux and Royan. Over a hundred hectares, hundreds of thousands of sturgeon splash in huge pools with high quality water from natural sources. Here, everything is under control: Dense the fish so that they have enough space to grow quietly. Then the food. Unlike other countries, they are fed only food consisting of fishmeal, oil, vegetables, minerals and vitamins. Each individual fish is also checked at least once during the seven years that it lasts. Around the age of 3 years, the sex of sturgeon is determined by ultrasound. This separates the males, which are sold fresh for meat, from the females, who produce eggs. At 8 or 9 years old, a final ultrasound is done to determine the size of the grain. In fact, the grains of caviar should be at least 2.6 mm in diameter. If the grain size is less, the animal is returned to the water and it will be necessary to wait for the next cycle. Finally, the females are moved to a nearby caviar production workshop to avoid stress. On the spot, they are slaughtered using a special gun. The meat is packed in slices.
Leather, real fish skin, is valued by a leather goods company from Lyon. In the workshop, the fish are opened to extract the eggs, which are sorted according to their size, color and firmness. Then they are salted and ripened in their original cans. Customers are offered three levels of refining: “Primeur”, a one-month refining, “Vintage”, between 3 and 6 months, and “Origine”, for a term of over 8 months.
In the cold room, precious chests await being marked for their final destinations. Not content with being the world’s leading French and heavyweight champion, Sturgeon, with his Sturia brand, is also a sales leader in Japan. In 2016, the company opened a subsidiary in the United States, in order to handle the second largest market in the world, after Russia. Part of the production is also on the shelves of supermarkets such as Picard, Monoprix or Carrefour. Laurent Dulau explains simply: “We offer them a high-quality product with different specifications.”
Competition from protectionist China
If large distribution is crazy about caviar from Aquitaine, Laurent Dulau does not hide the fact that he would like to be further supported by the great French chefs. With his cohorts, he spares no effort to persuade chefs to play the French caviar card, while low-priced Chinese imports account for 40% of the market, supported by traditional caviar distributors in France.
While the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the desire to return to the most local produce possible, the four main players in the French caviar sector have launched an appeal to restaurateurs and chefs. “Let’s encourage French knowledge!” »They claim, while only half of the 40 tons of caviar produced in France is destined for the national market, in particular because caviar is imported from China, at more competitive prices. An even more questionable situation as China protects its domestic market by making it impossible to import foreign caviar!
Laurent Doliot’s other hobby is more political, but it is the capital of the sector. At the head of his association, he would like to persuade Percy to apply the same value-added tax to caviar as to other food products such as foie gras or lobster. “The value-added tax of 5.5% relates to all food products, with the exception of certain types of products such as sweets, vegetable fats or caviar, which are taxed at 20%,” explains Laurent Dulau, who challenged the government on this issue. The crisis has forced us to take a break to reconsider the way we think about the world, people, the environment and the economy. It’s time to reconnect with the basics and make the right choices to be part of a more virtuous future and to support our sector of excellence. Does the government hear this cry from the heart?
Sologne, the other region of French caviar
His story is a true novel. Kian Islamdoust, founder of the Scandinavian House, was born in Iran, and studied in Great Britain, before leaving with his brother and sister, to the United States where he obtained a baccalaureate and completed part of his studies at a California university. . The young man is a talented tennis player.
To pay for his studies, he makes it his job. His clients value his setbacks as much as they value his invaluable contacts in Iran to import the country’s finest caviar. When, in the 1980s, the deterioration of diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States prompted Kian to leave the United States, he chose to settle in France to finish his studies at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. At the age of 24 he was running his first shop, under the banner of Maison du Salmon, boulevard de Grenelle (Paris, XV). It was there that he learned his trade on the job. After a delivery problem, he took over the logistics and reorganized it to his own hygiene and tracking standards.
Bolstered by the trust of his clients, he decided to set up on his own. In 1997, he finally opened his own brand specializing in seafood, which he called Nordic House. Word of mouth will do the rest. Because in Keyan Islamdoust you can find the best oscietra, beluga and other sevruga caviars.
When the ban on importing wild caviar into Europe gave rise to this new product, cultured caviar, the credo of the Scandinavian house remained the same: offer only the best. Keyan has therefore chosen to work alongside and exclusively with a single fish farmer to control the entire caviar production chain. And in Solonia, an unindustrialized region where sturgeon can spawn in the clear, unpolluted waters, Kian Islamdost has discovered the perfect fish farm. That Patricia Hennekart and her brother Vincent. These passionate fish farmers, based on a huge estate near Lamotte-Beauvron, produce cultured caviar known for its high quality and incomparable nutty flavour. 75 hectares of natural ponds and ponds allow about 50,000 specimens of wild sturgeon to grow in the best conditions and produce 6 tonnes of exceptional caviar each year.
Perlita, the discovery of the pearl of the Bassin d’Arcachon
In 1991, in the heart of the Teiche forest in the Arcachon basin, the Esturgeonnière fish farm was born. The first grains of caviar appeared in 1997 and production peaked at 50 kg per year. In 1999, Michel Berthommier bought the fish farm on behalf of the group to which he belonged. In November of the same year, the Perlita brand was born. Between 2005 and 2006, the site’s capacity increased from 150 tons of cattle to 300 tons, setting the target for caviar production at 3.5 tons per year. In 2006 the company carried out significant work to bring it into line with standard and prefabricated filtration systems (mechanical and biological) that remain unique in Europe today.
In 2007, Esturgeonnière was bought by Michel Berthommier together with another investor friend, as well as a group of financiers, and the Nurseteich hatchery was created in 2008. The group thus became the first in France to master the entire production cycle. On-site, from breeding to packaging, including the birth of fry and their rearing in different ponds, ensuring detailed and rigorous tracking. In 2013, the company obtained the official French label EPV (French Heritage Company) issued under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, in order to mark French companies with artisanal and industrial knowledge seen as happiness.