First Southern Hemisphere Caviar Farm
Black River Caviar (aka Esturiones del Rio Negro) started thirty years ago when Walter Alcalde pursued his dream of farming Russian Oscietra sturgeon in Uruguay’s Río Negro river to become the first Southern Hemisphere caviar producer in the world.
Walter had a provisioning business on the Rio Negro where Atlantic fishing boats bought supplies. Over many years working closely with the fishing industry he got to know a few Russian sailors, who introduced him to caviar.
In the 1980’s when global caviar production shifted from wild-caught to farmed caviar because of overfishing in the Caspian Sea, Walter saw an opportunity to bring sturgeon farming to the Rio Negro. After consultation and research, he determined that the average low water temperatures, the high volumes of pristine water unimpacted by industry, and the moderate climate of the Río Negro offered exceptional natural conditions for sturgeon aquaculture.
He was right.
From the beginning, Black River implemented sustainable farming practices to respect the natural environment and create zero waste. The farm maintains the breeding program Walter started with authentic Russian Oscietra (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) breed stock originating from the Caspian Sea, and produce the fish feed made from largely local, sustainable sources.
Four factors make it possible for Black River to achieve outstanding production results:
- our natural environment
- the strict technical and sanitary controls of our breeding program,
- our perfected, sustainable feed blend
- traceability of our fish from the moment of birth until the caviar is served.
Our farm is built along the banks of the Rio Negro. We work closely with our natural environment through an innovative water system that continually diverts water from the river through the farm. The system channels free-flowing river water through a series of “raceway” basins that are gravity fed to avoid using electric pumps.
The raceway basins have a water flow rate of over 2,000 liters per second. Each day 50 million gallons of water to flow from the river through the farm, which means our sturgeon do not swim in recirculated water. In fact, they never swim in the same water twice.
Our aquaculture environment completely differentiates Black River from other producers. We mimic the flow of a natural river in our facilities and provide a real river feel for the fish, as if in the wild. This artful blending of the natural with the man-made is what makes our products unique; it is perfect harmony between the wild kingdom and a captive breeding program that closely monitors the well-being of the fish throughout their life.
Provenance matters a great deal to caviar quality, and the Río Negro river possesses excellent clean properties for sturgeon breeding. The Baygorria Dam, upstream from where our farm is located, stands on basaltic soil that is free of contaminants and pollution.
Our location, innovative aquaculture system and water purity means that our Russian heritage fish stock stays healthy and happy from birth to harvest, which naturally results in exceptionally high-quality and consistently flavorful caviar.
The farm manages our own breeding program that began with breed stock of the highly coveted Caspian Sea Oscietra (Acipenser Gueldenstaedtii) sturgeon species. Known as Russian Oscietra, this premium species is slow to reproduce and mature. An average fish cultivated for caviar will be 7-9 years old.
Caviar is the result of a long breeding process and only harvested when females reach optimal maturity. This is determined through permanent monitoring of the fish in a personalized, individual manner. Mother Nature dictates the maturation schedule, not Black River!
Once fish are old enough to be sexed they are separated. The females are then moved to open water enclosures in the middle of the river where they swim in the natural environment and are nourished on a special diet. They remain in this open water setting for much of their lives before being brought into the basins when they are close to maturation.
When the fish are about 4 years of age they are tagged with a microchip. They are then moved to the raceways so they can be monitored with ultrasound and have biopsies to see how the eggs are developing. Once in the raceways the fish are treated with extreme care and monitored to make sure they remain healthy until harvest.
Preparing caviar is more an art than a rote manufacturing process. It requires skill and years of experience to achieve consistent quality. Preparation takes place in very clean, hygienic conditions to avoid any type of contamination. The processing room is HACCP certified to ensure no cross contamination.
The team preparing caviar looks a lot like a surgical team dressed in gowns, latex gloves, rubber boots and hair nets. The work is very precise and demanding.
The team processes each fish individually and designates the caviar into lots. Producing in specific lots is one of aspect of traceability that helps us identify the caviar long after it has departed our facility and is in a tin on someone's table.
The team assesses and does preliminary grading of each lot based on size, color, firmness of the eggs and overall texture at the time of harvest. The team cures the roe which involves washing the roe very well with purified water prior to salting by hand.
Once the caviar is salted it goes into Original Tins (OTs) holding up to 1.8kg. Then refrigerated to fully cure and be periodically turned during a 2-3 week period.
At every step the team notes the caviar condition, and of course records data on each lot as per CITES regulation.
Our caviar varies naturally in size and color, and the grading reflects this natural range in color from dark brown (Tradition grade) to lighter brown with larger egg size (Royale grade), to an even lighter brown and larger eggs (Imperial grade).
We also produce a tiny amount of Master Selection caviar which is amber in color. This exquisite Master Selection caviar is extremely rare - only about 1% of our total production - but is extremely delicious!
The production quantity of each grade varies each year. We focus on perfection and quality at each grade, and are continually refining our grading so that customers can know what to expect.
On the palate our caviar is pure, clean, delicate and fresh with nutty flavors reminiscent of walnuts and hazelnuts, and possessing a wonderfully creamy finish that lingers in your mouth. Each year we are confident that our caviar will be intensely rich and offer complex flavors that reflect Black River's distinct provenance and purity.