An introduction to Zwyer / A tasty April offer
To mark our month of caviar our newest team member Beth delved into the world of one of our most respected suppliers, Zwyer. We’re offering 15% off Zwyer’s Baerii caviar for the month of April only, so what better time to indulge in something decadent, organic and sustainable?
I’ve not been with Forman & Field for too long, but since joining I’ve been on a wonderful journey learning about our food, our incredible standards and our fantastic suppliers. Caviar was not something I’d had the pleasure of trying too much in the past, let alone become a connoisseur. I knew nothing of the process, it was actually one of our customers that had to tell me that caviar came only from the sturgeon (beluga, whale anyone?), can you believe? In order to truly appreciate the quality of not just caviar, but Zwyer (pronounced zvee-er) caviar in particular, I needed to understand it. Zwyer, the carefully nurtured brainchild of the Zwyer siblings, is a pioneering sustainable, organic caviar. I knew it was decadent; Forman & Field always have the highest of standards when choosing suppliers, but learning the entire journey made me realise caviar is less the fancy price tag and more ecological art form.
Essences of caviar have been a much-loved luxury throughout the world for thousands of years, although “who made it first” is debateable. The ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians understood the art of preserving farm eggs by salting and preserved all manner of food in preparation for times of famine, though whether the pearls of the sturgeon were amongst those preserved is unknown. The Ancient Greeks served it fresh from the sturgeon with fanfares at banquets as early as the fourth century BC, as documented by Aristotle. Both the Romans and the Persians believed caviar to have medicinal purposes, and while the Roman’s imported sturgeon eggs fresh from what now known as the Ukraine it was the Persians, legend has it, that first salted the eggs and called it “khav-yar” meaning “cake of power”, or “khag-viar” which translates literally to “small black eggs”. In the 14th century when the Venetians brought the sturgeon to Europe, monarchs issued decrees that made every sturgeon the king’s property.
Much like oysters, lobster and foie gras, Caviar was actually seen initially as poor man’s food. Fishermen on the Caspian Sea and the Volga began eating caviar not as a delicacy but as a basic food, a cheap source of protein. It wasn’t until Russian Tsars developed a taste for it in the nineteenth century (calling it “the food of the gods”) that Russian caviar became internationally renowned.
With something so steeped in history and in demand, the worldwide sturgeon population has declined monumentally in the last few years. 25 of the 27 varieties of sturgeon are on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 2 of these are already considered to be extinct. A fish with an evolutional age of 250,000 years, the world’s oldest vertebrate, is on the cusp of non-existence due to overindulgence, loss of habitat and hydroengineering. Experts come equipped with a caviar caveat; the sturgeon could become extinct in the next few years if we don’t make an influential change now. It is with good reason that the caviar trade has been regulated since 1998.
Experts come equipped with a caviar caveat; the sturgeon could become extinct in the next few years if we don’t make an influential change now. It is with good reason that the caviar trade has been regulated since 1998.
Drastic action and a new paradigm is required to maintain the very delicate balance of supply and demand in the caviar industry. Sadly, living as part of such a disposable generation means that in many cases preserving the utmost respect for the eco-system seems to have taken a backseat, as profit takes precedence. As the world has become wealthier and more populous, demand for caviar has far outstripped the supply. Prices, as a result, have been pushed up and caviar has become an expensive luxury often only for the wealthy. So how does one turn caviar, something equivocally decadent yet fast diminishing into something sustainable, organic, with ethics at the forefront of its priorities?
Meet the Zwyer siblings. What started as a chat around a Christmas dinner table in 2006 eventually led them to give up their well-paid jobs in favour of discovery, some two years later. How does one provide quality caviar that also meets ecological, social and economic standards? How can one provide quality caviar to as many people as possible whilst simultaneously maintaining these standards?
Both farmed and wild animal produce have good and bad characteristics. Wild, one would assume, would mean that animal lived the very best life up until death, free from the stress of agriculture. Farmed however, ethical reasoning aside, is able to meet the demands of our ever-increasing population. The Zwyer brothers considered all of these aspects and created a partnership with sturgeon farm Esturiones del Rio Negro (ERN), taking the best aspects from both sides, wild-raising sturgeon to create caviar that rivals even its wild counterparts.
ERN is a family business with an excellent reputation. Upon receiving imported Russian sturgeon eggs they’re placed in a hatchery, in an environment that simulates the bottom of a river where Russian sturgeon naturally spawn. Then, the best young sturgeon are picked via natural classification, the cream of the crop being sent to the lake; an environment that corresponds very closely to that of the Caspian Sea, with slow and natural water streams. This stress-free environment allows the fish to grow in a healthy and natural way whilst being fed a specially designed organic diet.
The fish are fed up to four times a day with food specifically adjusted to their phase of life. Gone are the antibiotics, the growth hormones, the pesticides and the fertilisers, this is purely organic development contributing further to Zwyer’s irreproachable quality.
The sturgeon live for up to ten years within the lake, reaching sexual maturity up to twice as fast as their Caspian cousins. The farm’s family of workers explain that this is down to the comparable heat which promotes healthier growth than that of the Russian regions. Once the females start to produce their first roe they are moved to a system which perfectly simulates river rapids. The unprecedented system moves roughly 50 million gallons each day, guaranteeing the directly sourced water from the Rio Negro is 100% fresh and free flowing. The river is deemed as one of the cleanest in the world which eliminates the need for any sort of filter or water treatment. The water is naturally oxygenated and the area is designed in such a way that the sturgeon can be monitored 24 hours a day. The water’s speed, volume and depth are always variable meaning the females natural journey up the river can be naturally and consistently simulated.
This system alone makes these “wild-raised” sturgeon completely unique. The continuous exercise they receive in this environment, the steady swimming against the fresh water, allows the fish to grow and mature in a fashion in much the same way as their wild counterparts, thus making Zwyer a prime quality caviar. The roe quality is extraordinarily high, comparable to roe of sturgeon living in the wild.
Zwyer, not only with it’s high-welfare farming practices, also supports the cultivation of new sturgeon populations for the conservation of the species. They are contributing members of the World Sturgeon Conservation Society (W.S.C.S), a collection of international scientists, planners and practitioners with the sole intention of reviving the sturgeon population in natural waters and educating about the protection of the species worldwide, irrespective of the cultural or political circumstances. With such focus, Zwyer actively assists in counteracting the dramatic decimation of the sturgeon that are so rapidly becoming extinct.
The recipe of Zwyer is strictly confidential, but it goes without saying that the best caviar contains only the best ingredients. The purest Patagonian glacier water is used to clean the roe, fleur de sel or “flower of salt”, the purest of sea salts, helps create the perfect harmonic taste. Zwyer also guarantee traceability. If one would like to know the age of the sturgeon, the weight or even the diet in a particular period it can be done. Alexander Zwyer explains,
“We don’t need to talk about transparency. For us it is a prerequisite for a responsible action. Our fish have a micro chip implanted and we take social and especially environmental responsibility very, very seriously. Our entire operation is carbon neutral. Afterall, caviar is a matter of trust!”
So, with all of the above considered, the 10-year development period of the sturgeon, the vast, natural enclosure to emulate that of the wild and the intrinsic efforts going in to conservation, the price tag now comes as no surprise to me. Gone are the images of “fish being treated as fish” – welfare to Zwyer is important and the farmers are truly sad when the life cycle comes to an end.
The Zwyer brothers created not a marketing tool but a mission statement, a promise of “Le Caviar Ethique” to destigmatize the sybaritic portrayal of caviar. No longer will it stand for chronic overfishing or care free indulgence; the Zwyer brothers wanted to recreate caviar, creating something that worked for not only their business, not only for the consumer but for the future of the sturgeon too – for mass production of any plant or animal there needs to be a symbiotic relationship if there is to be a substantial future with a happy prospect. As Alexander Zwyer says, “We see ethics less as a result and more as a process of development.” The only way to accomplish this is with a mindful approach to farming sturgeon in essentially wild surroundings, and Zwyer have accomplished just that.
For our full caviar range please visit our Zwyer section via Forman & Field and use code ZWY418 at the checkout.