… the most precious delicacy in the world from a sturgeon farmer from northern Germany
Black and white, like square holes, the ponds are laying in the white snow, on this slightly overcast December morning in the Aukrug Nature Park. You do not see it, but there are unusual treasures in them. Cleverly, the owner, Christian Zuther-Grauerholz, travels his tractor across a narrow dam, past some ponds, through “Mother Holle’s” white cream landscape, to his “mature” treasures: Belugas, Osietras and Siberian sturgeons. A selection romps just outside the edge of the forest, in specially created natural reservoirs. Zuther-Grauerholz is one of the few caviar sturgeon farmers in Germany. The rare bony fish are his passion: “The mysticism of this fish has lured me, in addition to the wonderful delicacy that it develops, it just fit well!”
In a good mood, the master of the sturgeons jumps from the tractor and swings the fish basket, the so-called catcher, from the trailer over to the right bank of the pond. Together with his Russian sales manager, Sergey Andreev, he wants to harvest roe today. Andreev is originally from Moscow. The Russian has a thing for real caviar. In waders, gummed Fishing pants, from boot to chest, the two experts of sturgeon move a little awkwardly through the fresh snow. Zuther-Grauerholz slips sideways into the water which is only three degrees Celsius cold, attaches a pull net to the side and moves towards the end of the pond with the other end of the net. Under water, it is held by lead weights on the ground. Together, they pull the net from the back to the front, like a partition, through the pond. The pond surface behind it comes quickly in motion. The Lady Sturgeons, also called Rogner, are rudely ripped from their sleep. A few curious noses peek out from under the surface of the water, then disappear again. The ponds are about 1.50m deep. Sturgeons are quickly identifiable by their distinct noses. The Siberian sturgeons have relative long noses.
The closer the grid lock comes to the edge of the pool, the livelier the noise in the water becomes. When Zuther-Grauerholz and Andreev meet in the right corner, they can make the most of it. A good one and a half tons, 1500 kg, of fish fidget around them. Living safes filled with coveted black pearls. Around forty fish they pick out of the holding pond per harvesting process. Like the carp used to be in the bathtub, these fish are also cleaned before being eaten. “This is immensely important for the good quality of the fish eggs and the clear taste,” confirms the marine and fishery biologist Dr. med. Manfred Klinkhardt. For this purpose, Zuther-Grauerholz relocates them from their normal ponds for storage in lagoons, which are nourished by fresh spring water. A few weeks they detoxify there and are also trimmed to line: “If the fish are too fat, they have less roe,” explains the sturgeon fan.
Carefully, the two collect Siberian sturgeon in the catcher until an imposing rarity makes a violently writhing. Andreev and Zuther-Grauerholz are barely able to control the approximately two-meter-long, violently wriggling Beluga female. Her nose is slightly wider than the other sturgeon species and her mouth is huge. It is one of the most precious and rare fish in the world. “This female is about 30 years old and so worth the 35000 €”, smiles Zuther-Grauerholz. Belugas take about 17 to 30 years before they become sexually mature, depending on the climate, in warmer climes it is faster. This sturgeon lady, together with several other comrades, made it over to Zuther-Grauerholz after turning from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. That’s how long he’s feeding her. The Siberian sturgeons pubertal faster, they start after nine to ten years of roe, which is evident in pleasing prices.
Sturgeons are one of the oldest fish species in the world, they are primal fish. In the past, their European relative, the European sturgeon, revived the North Sea. Thus, the migratory fish came over the sturgeon, a small river from whose source Zuther-Grauerholz today fresh water wins, even in Schleswig-Holstein over. The last one was spotted in 1985 in the Elbe.
The stocking was so abundant that you fed the juvenile fish to the pigs. As late as the 1950s, Caspian fishermen stirred strong salted caviar under their meals because the protein-rich fish roe was so cheap and nutritious.
Tsar Peter the Great appreciated the delicacy “malo sol”, meaning in Russian with little salt, and thus more perishable. The cavalry provided the tsars family with the deliciousness. Other aristocrats and gourmets got the taste and so the black fish granules develope quickly from poor people’s food to a luxury pearl delicacy. The “caviar rush”, pollution, poaching and the build-up of the rivers have eliminated the sturgeon almost everywhere. The anadromous migratory fish living in both salt and fresh water lost access to its maternity wards. In the Elbe, near Geesthacht, scientists like Dr. Jörn Gessner, from the “Society for the Rescue of the Sturgeon”, since 2010 with a staircase the new set to jump into his puerperium, to the quieter spawning grounds in the river. A test of patience: “Until the establishment of self-sustaining stocks will probably take about 30 years, only then we can breathe.”
With its sophisticated sturgeon farm Zuther-Grauerholz has saved the caviar trade in Germany a bit. Klinkhardt knows the plant and rates it well: “Anyone who manages to raise his sturgeon in an aquaculture system and bring it to maturity after five, ten or even more years, depending on the type of sturgeon, has done everything right.”
About twenty ponds connected by pipes offer the game fish a safe “nest”. Zuther-Grauerholz bred carp here until 1994 before the disturbances. The only cormorants regularly snatched him away. The change to the bigger and heavier sturgeons was a good idea: “We set the sturgeon out with more than 750 g, then they are bird proof,” he smiles. Everything was a little dignified. His grandfather already built the cozy hunting lodge on the edge of the ponds. After the often cold, wet harvest Andreev and he like to pause and warm up, by the fire and of course with caviar and special vodka from Russia: “This one is so cloudy because it was applied with horseradish, so it protects a little cold” explains Sergey.
From the hut you have a good overview on the terraces like sloping pond park Idyll: The sun has decided to smile through the clouds and in the distance a swan moves his contemplative round. The slight downward slope from the source simulates movement. The paddle fans continuously “ventilate” the waters with oxygen. They look like little rapids from the top. The sturgeons like it in their “mast” system. They have adapted their continual stay in fresh water and feel so well-fed just fine.
Vom Catcher kommen die „schwangeren“, noch lebenden Fische mit den Modelmaßen in einen Transportbehälter mit frischem Wasser. Darin werden sie zügig zur nahen Fischverarbeitung Reese gebracht. Bevor es ihnen an den Kragen geht, wird mit geübten Handgriffen geschaut, ob der zukünftige Kaviar die richtige Reife hat: „Die Körner dürfen nicht überreif sein. Sie müssen genau die richtige Konsistenz haben: voll, groß und fest“ erklärt Zuther-Grauerholz, „sonst gehen sie bei der Verarbeitung kaputt.“
Then each fish is weighed, carefully listed and stunned with a targeted hit on the bone plates in its head. Fischwirt Jan Schulz immediately hangs him upside down and puts a targeted cut on the gills. As with other farm animals, the fish dies from bleeding. “That takes exactly a cigarette length,” says Andreev, then the fish is dead. While Zuther-Grauerholz, Andreev and Schulz treat themselves to a little glass in front of the door, the fish’s blood drips dark red, from the splendid specimens of Siberian sturgeons, onto the white tiles the fish processing plant. Back from the cold, it’s just under zero degrees, Jan Schulz hangs the 1.30 m to 1.50 m long animals and places fish for fish one after the other on the flashing, sterile steel table. Two cuts are needed to open the fish. First, a small side of the anus to avoid contamination. The longitudinal section, from the head to the tail, opens the abdomen and immediately exposes the whole splendor of the ovaries, the ovaries. The result is a surprise every time. Zuther-Grauerholz grins over both cheeks: “It could not be better! These Siberian sturgeons are a bit older. They had already prepared and absorbed several times roe. This makes the yield better. “
Nestled in two longitudinal ovarian strands encased in a thin protective membrane, the roe is ready. Carefully, Andreev lifts the still undecorated “black gold” out of the large, pretty fish loaf and continues to reach Zuther-Grauerholz strand by strand. He weighs the roe, with the ovaries, and adds the weight to the list, which later serves, among other things, as proof of production. The fish is further decomposed in the fish business and sold as sturgeon meat. “Tastes good, bittersweet and relatively neutral,” says Jan Schulz, the fish farmer of the processing plant. The ovaries of each individual fish are packed separately in plastic bags and placed on ice for transport.
For the final refining, Zuther-Grauerholz transports the roe to Dieckmann & Hansen in Hamburg, the world’s oldest caviar trading house directly on the Elbe. Since 1869 they are dealing with fish and especially with caviar. After 2010, the trading house almost threatened to go out. The international trade agreement “Cites” * deleted all fishing quotas and generally prohibited the wild catching of fish in order to protect the endangered species even more sustainably. This was Zuther-Grauerholz good hour, without further ado, he jumped with his pond economy first in a small frame.
* Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of World Fauna and Flora
The roe harvested in the morning is ground in the back rooms of Dieckmann & Hansen, by tender hands from Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, through a steel net until the ovaries are completely separated from the black grains. Then the grains are washed under clear ice water until completely free of all blood and tissue residues. The perfect mix is missed by Russian caviar master of the house, Andre Dering, the still virgin fish eggs. He weighs the caviar again and then, according to the house recipe, adds salt from Lüneburg and the mineral borax: “Borax makes the caviar more durable. In this way we can process with a lower salt content, milder, malossol, “explains Zuther-Grauerholz.
For about four minutes, Dering stirs the gray white house mix under the black granules until they feel gruffy between their fingers and their color changes to anthracite. Then the caviar is graduated, so classified. With a vernier caliper, Dering measures the grain size, determines the color and the texture and notes everything for later sale in a list. Then Dering pours the salted roe into a finely meshed gauze sieve so that any remaining brine can drip off. The women fill the caviar into 1.5 kg lidded food cans and the rest into smaller containers. The cans are pressed in with specially made hand machines, whereby the remaining air should escape. With a wide rubber band, they are hermetically sealed and then similar to champagne, continuously turned. Thus, the caviar is repeatedly run through by the brine and the grain remains fresh and juicy. At minus four degrees of storage, the granules can ferment evenly. The slightly milky content becomes clear and the caviar gets its inimitable unique taste: “Discreetly salty, but not over the top, a light fish note is okay, but it should not dominate the product. The grain must be as firm as possible, shine silky and taste “pure”, without side aromas, “explains Klinkhardt, who has to do with caviar worldwide. This description applies to the most well-known sturgeon species: Beluga, Osietra, Sevruga and the Siberian sturgeon.
In the front rooms of Dieckmann & Hansen, towards the large Elbstrasse, the Christmas orders, all sorts of cans and jars are stacked in pretty packaging. The contents are already recognizable by the lid color. A woman in a fur coat accompanied by a handsome gentleman got lost in the wholesale supplier. Of course she wants real caviar from the sturgeon, but she does not know her stuff. “Never caviar from metal cutlery,” begins Zuther-Grauerholz, “that gives a taste.” He hands her a small mother-of-pearl spoon and with some Sibirskaya, Siberian caviar, to try. The 50 g tin for about 35 €, a good beginner. “Beluga is the most exclusive, especially soft-shelled and large-grained with a buttery creamy taste,” enthuses the caviar lover. Osietra tastes more firm with a slightly nutty aroma and creamier than the caviar from the Siberian sturgeon.
The lady is smiling. The couple chooses the Beluga, the 50 g can for about € 170.00, it’s Christmas time …