North Carolina Sturgeon Caviar: No Longer a Rumor!

by Jason Piekarski

This just in!

One of the reasons I love working at Southern Season is the arrival of something rare and unusual. It’s exciting to see faces light up like they’ve just seen an old friend and bewilderment blooming on the new faces in the crowd. It’s a time when we get plenty of stories, some of which may induce blushing, and misty eyes as we instill our excitement into our colleagues; training them by anecdote.

As I walked into the back of the house today, I was greeted with just that.

You see, we’ve been waiting on this one. It’s the first shipment of caviar from one of North Carolina’s own sturgeon aquaculture. We received just 6 30gram tins and one 125 gram tin. The larger tin was for the Weathervane restaurant and shortly after I informed them about its arrival, the prep chef came over to pick it up and place it safely in the restaurant. Chef Ryan Payne, leader of our recent team of Fire in the Triangle winning team, has special plans for that tin.

The Atlantic Caviar and Sturgeon Company was established almost a decade ago when Joe Doll, president of the company, formed a partnership with three other partners. When one of the partners died in 2008, his will bequeathed controlling shares of the parent company to NC State University. This led to close association with NC Cooperative Extension specialists to develop the business.

The company received their first shipment of Siberian Sturgeon (Acipenser baerii) fingerlings in 2006 and have since patiently waited for them to mature in their sustainable, 720,000 gallon facility. They also raise Atlantic and Russian sturgeon, although these require considerably more patience to produce caviar. In addition to caviar, they also produce fresh and smoked sturgeon fillets.

Elisabeth Wall, who does so much more than her titular position of “Marketing, Media and Sales” implies, contacted me at the beginning of the year. When she told me that the farm was located in Happy Valley in Lenoir, NC, I was speechless.

I grew up in the Western part of the state and my family spent a lot of time around Lenoir and other towns on 421. While I may not sound like I’m from NC, I am always proud to offer exciting food that is raised right here in my home state. Even more so when it’s almost from my home town.

They were just getting started with the marketing, selling mainly to restaurants around the state, but they wanted to give us a chance to sell it in the store. About a month ago, Elisabeth called on us again with samples of the caviar and the sturgeon.

We were floored.

The fresh caviar was buttery and complex with just the right touch of salt – they use a “Malossol” style. It comes to us packaged in 30 gram banded tins (just a hair over an ounce) which makes for a very exciting presentation.

We hope to offer their smoked sturgeon in our fish case as well as fresh fillets by special order only – although that is still in the works. Elisabeth is sending along some recipes to get you excited. The smoked sturgeon is to die for; trust us.

You should start making your special plans too.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with caviar, but are interested in exploring one of the most luxurious of products, here is a very brief primer to get you started:

When serving caviar, the opened jar (or tin) should rest on a bed of crushed ice and the caviar should be spooned out with non-metallic tableware. Traditionally, mother of pearl spoons make the best implements other than one’s finger (which should only be used in the most intimate of settings). Best served with a little crème fraiche on a blini (small, Russian crepe), caviar also does well with lightly toasted bread and a little unsalted, sweet cream butter. Some enthusiasts use onion, hard-boiled egg and lemon juice, but those accompaniments are not recommended for the purist.

“Malossol”, which is the Russian word for “a little salt”, is a traditional preparation that uses as much as 5% salt per ounce of caviar. Approximately 1400 mg. However, since caviar is used sparingly at best, you can be sure that you should be more worried about the butter or crème fraiche that accompanies it.