“A Great Russian Caviar” Made In Italy
“A Great Russian Caviar” Made In Italy
When Russia imposed a trade embargo on imported foods in August 2014, Caviar was not on the list, helping an Italian sturgeon farm to infiltrate Putin’s homeland.
“We’ve had to put a Russian brand name on the tin, and we don’t put ‘Made in Italy’ on it,” said Lelio Mondella, Managing Director of Agroittica.
Russia’s $1.1-T economy contracted the most since Y 2009 in Q-2 due to a Crude Oil and currency rout exacerbated by tit-for-tat sanctions against the EU and the US that prompted a ban on imports from French cheese to Polish cabbage.
Caviar was exempted since Russia already had to look abroad for the delicacy after low stocks led to a prohibition on wild sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea.
“Rich and powerful Russians cannot do without it, so they have made an exception,” Mr. Mondella said.
Using a Mother-of-Pearl spoon he delicately scooped out some of the tiny black eggs, placed them on to the back of his left hand, then closed his lips over them. “First you roll the eggs between the tongue and the palate,” he said. “Now squeeze.”
Opened in the small town of Calvisano, East of Milan, in the late 1970’s when a steelmaker started breeding fish in the hot water from his works, the farm produces some 25 tons of Caviar a year.
Sixty acres of spring-water tanks are home to sturgeon which take from 8 to 20 years to produce the eggs, with the most-prized Beluga breed taking the longest.
Caviar has long been an Italian delicacy, not just a Russian or Iranian one.
Legend says Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci gave the Milanese Duchess Beatrice d’Este sturgeon’s eggs in a box encrusted with precious stones.
There are no certified figures for global Caviar production, but according to the France-based Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Italy sold 42 tons in Y 2014, behind leader China at 54 tons. Russia was 3rd at 40 tons.
“The 2008 financial crisis did hit the Caviar sector, but the market has picked up again,” said Laurent Sabeau, who heads FEAP’s committee on sturgeons. “The sector will grow because some countries are becoming consumers. If the Chinese haute bourgeoisie start eating Caviar, that will be huge.”
The Russian economy shrank 4.6% in Q-2 after Mr. Putin’s support for Ukrainian separatists drew condemnation, and successive rounds of trade sanctions, from Western nations. Crude Oil, Russia’s main export earner, dove 58% since June 2014 as the Ruble has been this Quarter’s worst-performing currency after the Malawian Kwacha.
In spite of the Russian ban on EU agricultural products, the value of overall exports from the Euroregion has risen 5% since the embargo was instituted, according to the European Commission. While Russia has become Agroittica’s biggest territory, exports there are forecast to fall to 2.5 tons this year from 3.7 tons in Y 2014 due to the economic slump.
Mr. Mondella proudly recalls a Russian acquaintance offering him “a great Russian Caviar” at a dinner on a yacht off Sardinia’s Emerald Coast 2 Summers ago. Mr. Mondella tasted it, then lifted the tin and looked underneath. The code number revealed it was his.
For Michele Costabile, a professor of marketing at the Luiss University in Rome, “Camouflaging” the caviar’s origin shows Italy is getting its own back on Russia.
“Russia is full of Pizza and Pasta which have vaguely Italian names but are in fact clumsy imitations made in Russia,” he said. “Two can play that game.”
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