Stereotypical rich people of days gone by, with their brass-buttoned Navy blazers and exotic European sports cars, used to love to feast upon caviar. Why? Nobody knows, but it had something to do with caviar being a weird and expensive thing from a strange and threatening place: Communist Russia, or Red China—wild sturgeon were already in short supply by the 1950s, when Ian Fleming made his social-climbing civil servant an aficionado of the appetizer. By the 1960s, it was the show-off rich people restaurant appetizer of choice. Then humanity continued destroying rivers and fisheries and whole ecosystems until the Earth's caviar systems all collapsed. Wild caviar, that beloved snack of princes and those who aspired to be princely, is gone:
To the surprise of many would-be gourmands, the halcyon days of caviar are over. Most of the world's production no longer comes from such exotic spots as Russia's Volga River and western Asia's Caspian Sea. Those supplies are almost completely depleted from pollution, poaching, and overfishing of the caviar-egg-bearing sturgeon.
"Wild caviar is gone, and we can all forget about it," said Alexandre Petrossian, sales director and grandson of the founder of the 92-year-old French company that bears the family's name, known worldwide for premium caviar.
What you get these days when you want caviar is farmed fish eggs from the half-rural/half-suburban landscape east of the Sacramento airport. In an area of rice farms and 10-acre parcels scarred with off-road vehicle loops, caged sturgeon produce 22,000 pounds of farmed caviar per year. It's still expensive, but the Russian names on the tins can't really change the fact that it's not much different than the products of a catfish farm.
There's a little wild caviar left. The Iranian Karaburun is supposedly the "only remaining wild sturgeon that is not considered an endangered species because of the efforts put forth by the Iranian Ministry of Fisheries." For the bargain price of $2,595, you can have a half-kilogram of the stuff sent to you.
Photo by Dinner Series.