First Southern Hemisphere Caviar Farm
Black River Caviar (aka Esturiones del Rio Negro) launched 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’s business was provisioning Atlantic fishing boats on the Rio Negro. Working closely with the fishing industry over many years, he got to know a few Russian sailors, who introduced him to caviar.
Walter saw an opportunity in the 1980s, when global caviar production shifted from wild-caught to farmed caviar because of overfishing in the Caspian Sea: He would bring sturgeon farming to the Rio Negro. He dove into consulting and researching, finally he determined that the river’s average low water temperatures, high volumes of pristine water unaffected by industry, and the Rio Negro’s moderate climate offered the exceptional natural conditions needed for sturgeon aquaculture.
From the beginning, Black River implemented sustainable farming practices respecting the natural environment and leaving zero waste. The farm maintains the breeding program Walter started with authentic Russian Oscietra (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) breed stock originating from the Caspian Sea, and producing 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.
At our farm along the banks of the Rio Negro, we work closely with our natural environment through an innovative system that continually redirects water from the river through the farm. Channeling free-flowing river water through a series of gravity-fed “raceway” basins eliminates the need for electric pumps.
With a water flow rate of over 2,000 liters per second, our raceway basins allow 50 million gallons of water to flow from the river through the farm, so our sturgeon do not swim in recirculated water. In fact, they never swim in the same water twice.
Our aquaculture environment makes Black River unique among caviar producers. We mimic a natural river flow in our facilities, providing a real, wild-river feel for our fish. This artful blending of the natural environment with human innovation is what makes our products exceptional—a perfect harmony between the wild kingdom and our captive breeding program that ensures our sturgeon enjoy vigorous health throughout their lives.
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 our farm, stands on pristine 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, naturally resulting in exceptionally high-quality and consistently flavorful caviar.
Our farm’s breeding program began with breed stock of the highly coveted Caspian Sea Oscietra (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) sturgeon. Known as Russian Oscietra, this premium species is slow to reproduce and mature. An average fish cultivated for caviar is 7 to 9 years old.
Caviar is the result of a long breeding process and is only harvested when females reach optimal maturity. This is determined through permanent monitoring of the fish in a personalized, individual manner. Nature dictates the maturation schedule, not Black River!
Once fish are old enough, they are identified by sex and separated. The females are moved to open water enclosures in the middle of the river where they swim in the natural environment and eat a nourishing 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.
At about 4 years, the fish are microchipped, moved to the raceways, monitored with ultrasound and biopsied to reveal how the eggs are developing. Once in the raceways, the fish are treated with extreme care and observed continually, ensuring they remain healthy until harvest.
Preparing caviar is more an art than a rote manufacturing process, requiring skill and years of experience to achieve consistent quality. Preparation takes place in immaculate, hygienic conditions to avoid contamination. The processing room is HACCP certified to ensure no cross contamination.
Preparing caviar looks a lot like performing delicate surgery, with our team donning surgical gowns, latex gloves, rubber boots and hair nets. The work is precise and demanding.
The team processes each fish individually and designates the caviar into lots. Producing in specific lots is one aspect of traceability that helps us identify the caviar long after it has departed our facility and a tin is opened on someone's table.
At harvest time, assessing and conducting preliminary grading of each lot is based on size, color, egg firmness and overall texture. The team cures the roe, which involves washing the roe thoroughly with purified water prior to salting by hand.
Once the caviar is salted, it goes into Original Tins (OTs) holding up to 1.8kg, refrigerated to fully cure, and periodically turned during a two- to three-week period.
At every step, the team evaluates the caviar condition, and records all data on each lot as per CITES regulation.
Our caviar varies naturally in size and color. 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 small portion 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 flavorful and delicious!
The production quantity of each grade varies each year. At Black River Caviar we focus on perfection and quality at each grade, and are continually refining our grading so that customers know what to expect.
Our caviar is pure, clean, delicate and fresh, with warm, savory flavors reminiscent of walnuts and hazelnuts, possessing a wonderfully creamy finish that lingers on your palate. We are confident that each and every year our caviar will be intensely rich and offer complex flavors that reflect Black River Caviar's distinct, and historic, provenance and purity.