In the valleys outside Bern, Swiss caviar business beats to underground power

Pure Swiss Alpine caviar

Caviar is one of those delicacies that demands an acquired a taste for immense flavors – mostly salt and fish.

It also demands a high amount of careful preparation and care of the Siberian sturgeon which bear the elite’s favorite side dish until harvesting. Most of the world gets its caviar imported from the Black and Caspian Seas in the heart of Eastern Europe, making the price stay above $3,000 a kilogram and well out of reach of the average cook.

This year is different for Swiss who want a piece of the caviar action, but close to home.  The sustainable-focued business Tropenhaus Frutigen nestled in the quiet glacial Loetschberg valley in Switzerland is entering the caviar market with a unique power source that turned a construction blunder into black gold.

No not oil. The gold is the minuscule fish eggs which are some of the most highly regarded delicacies in the world. Connoisseurs of the fishy delights can commonly be found shopping for CAVIAR SPOONS made of the chemically inert material mother of pearl to eat their eggs with so as not to taint their snack with other flavors. That’s how highly valued the fragile flavor of the caviar is!

The power is geothermal! Tropenhaus uses the steam to turn efficient turbine generators for lights and pumps and ventilation, but the real value of the hot springs is the naturally warmed water which allows the sturgeons to eat and grow all year long. This can be real benefit when your fish, like a whiskey or wine, needs to mature no less than 6 years before it can be harvested and sold. Now the waiting is over, and the fish are nearly ready to come out of the water.

An employee of the Tropenhaus Frutigen, a company using geothermal energy from the Loetschberg rail tunnel to produce exotic fruit, sturgeon meat and caviar, holds a Siberian sturgeon he caught from a breeding pool in the Alpine village of Frutigen. ©france24.com

Tropenhaus Frutigen has been growing bananas, papaya, mangos both outdoors and in greenhouses thanks to temperatures reaching 60˚ C  since starting in 2002. But Tropenhaus and their precious pisces are ready for shifting their main focus of production to caviar from Siberian sturgeon. Since the wild Beluga sturgeon fished from the Caspian Sea was outlawed by Russia, Iran and Turkey as early as 2000, some great innovations have come along. With great food theres always a silver lining.

Exportation.

Or importation.

Both.

Aquaculture has grown all over the world to support people’s demands for fresh fish products with the wild stock of animals more depleted every year, and possibly without recovery. With Tropenhaus-Frutigen expecting to produce 2 tons of caviar and 45 tons of sturgeon meat a year by Christmas 2014, the need to harm wild fish will be tremendously reduced. Elena Kuznetsov, head of Media Relations at Tropenhause-Frutigen, also says the Swiss crop will taste much better than wild caught sturgeon because the fellows in Bern carefully monitor the fish’s habitat for the perfect hygienic conditions

However, Tropenhaus-Frutigen is a fairly expensive business to operate and that includes the free hot water. The project cost $30 million dollars to start up and another $10 million in bank loans to stay open until the sturgeon have matured. There is a lot of hope for the fish farming business to take pressure off of the wild species says David Morgan, who heads the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, referred to as CITES, which strictly regulates the world’s sturgeon trade.

The practice of farm producing caviar has already been taken up in many European countries since the 1970s, but few operations in the world match the green footprint Tropenhaus-Frutigen leaves behind. Additionally, the immense start up costs that CITES imposes can drive prices for farmed caviar well above wild caught varieties in less developed nations. This creates a loop hole for black market Beluga caviar that is unregulated in health, quality, and quotas making the job of protecting the endangered fish more difficult.

Morgan also warns that a shift in caviar production to mainly farms could reduce the value of wild sturgeon world wide and reduce current efforts to keep their natural habitat in the Caspian clean of shipping and civilian pollution.

Having never tried the real deal caviar myself, I know that many chefs curse when they are using Salmon roe as an alternative because buying imported caviar is just out of the question. Can America make a go at sustainable and cheap caviar in North America? Though the possibility is proven and the technology exists, along with the power source in many Northern states, Americans have lagged behind the world in incentivizing green energy projects.

For now, Switzerland continues to be the destination for the extremely rich who have expensive tastes, to enjoy the finest delicacies at a fraction of the cost to the environment.

2 thoughts on “In the valleys outside Bern, Swiss caviar business beats to underground power

  1. To get its black caviar, the Tropenhaus anesthesizes the sturgeon, as is required by Swiss animal rights law, before killing it. The roe is then collected by hand and salted. The fish filets are smoked and served in the adjacent restaurant.

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