Caviar has been synonymous with luxury cuisine for thousands of years and has always carried a romantic and mystical connotation of foreign lands. Little is known about North America’s involvement in the caviar industry but just a century ago American waters were filled with sturgeon and the United States had a short lived but prolific caviar industry of its own. At one time the oceanic delicacy was so plentiful in this country that caviar sandwiches were served in 19th century bars in place of peanuts. At 10 cents a pound this now priceless delicacy was far cheaper than salted peanuts and was served to enhance beer sales.
The Delaware and Hudson Rivers among others along the Atlantic seaboard were saturated with sturgeon which had lived in these waters for centuries without disruption. Having been of little interest to the American settlers who found shad and herring more desirable used sturgeon as fertilizer and sturgeon roe as swine feed. Therefore, this prehistoric fish was never really pursued until European Caviar Houses having exhausted domestic supplies of sturgeon arrived on the New Jersey shores in search of fresh supply.
Today, Penn’s Grove formely known as “Caviar” a town on the Delaware shore in New Jersey prides itself as having been the “capital of the caviar world” not too long ago. Penn’s Grove was once home to the “Caviar Rush” which began in the late 1870’s and spanned a period of about 30 years. During that time America became known as the leading supplier of caviar to Europe. As much as 3,500 tons of caviar were exported to Europe, repacked and sold as a European product. In the early 1900’s, 90% of “Russian caviar” advertised in the US and Europe as a Caspian product came from the Delaware River. Sadly, the unrelenting popularity of this oceanic delicacy forced the sturgeon to the brink of extinction and in 1925 the US sturgeon fisheries were mandated to close.
This series of events forced the European Caviar Houses doing business in the US to look for an alternate supply of sturgeon. Although faced with many transporting difficulties and strict customs regulations, the European Caviar Houses were forced to turn to the Caspian and Black Sea for their sturgeon supply. Caviar has always been associated with Russian royalty but it was not until the early 1930’s that the Caspian Sea fisheries began commercial production of caviar so highly regarded today. Recently however with a questionable future of the Caspian sturgeon, United States has made a strong comeback in caviar production.
The looming threat of a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – a United Nations agency in charge of setting export quotas) ban on exportation of Caspian caviar lead many US based aquafarms to begin looking for a Caspian and Black Sea sturgeon caviar alternative. Several aquafarms including Stolts in CA and other throughout the US began importing live Caspian sturgeon to be raised on US aquafarms in hopes of one day harvesting their precious eggs. Their efforts were not wasted. In the years that followed, concern for survival of the sturgeon species prompted CITES to decrease export quotas for sturgeon caviar from Caspian and Black seas. Last year the gourmet world stood by helplessly as CITES announced a ban on export of all Caspian caviar. The holidays were spent enjoying the delicacies produced right here on the US shores with all the environmental and health regulations in place. And although the ban has recently been lifted we are delighted with the American products that are available in the States at prices that will not strain your wallet. So why not spend this coming 4th of July in patriotic luxury with some of the domestically raised and harvested caviars.