Belgium: famous for its chocolate, but not so much its caviar
Caviar has long been associated with Russia in our minds, but since the ban on wild fishing Russian production has virtually ceased. So other countries have taken up the baton, with the largest current exporters being China, Italy and France.
Belgium too has started to produce this black gold, although in more modest quantities than these three countries. The Belgian sector produces three tonnes of caviar annually, making a third of its turnover in December. One of Belgium's producers, Royal Belgian Caviar, breeds several varieties of sturgeon in the Dottignies industrial area.
Before they can offer up the valuable grains that are a quintessential part of the Christmas Eve dinner, the females must reach maturity: "When we receive the sturgeons, they are fry or babies. We must wait for them to grow and it's only in adolescence that we can collect the caviar," explains Thierry Bay, who manages the operation at Dottignies. This is around the age of 10 and is the most opportune moment for optimal quality. "This is the age at which the eggs are most appealing. Prior to this, they are too small and resemble lumpfish roe. They have to reach the ideal size of 2.7mm". A long process which explains the product's often exorbitant price; up to 7,000 euros a kilo for one of the highest-quality varieties, Beluga.
Another Belgian company, managed for nearly 25 years by a couple originally from Iran, Ahmad Razavi and his wife Arya, has established itself in Waterloo, the Caspian Tradition. The business exports worldwide and satisfies the most stringent quality standards. Indeed, the company is constantly supervised by the couple, since the operation is worth several million euros!
So, if you feel like treating yourself for the festive season, consider caviar and remember the "nose test"! Simply smell the caviar, if there's no odour, it's very good quality. Happy tasting!