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The Globe and Mail

Fish farm produces Switzerland's first caviar

Sturgeon bred in a warm mountain stream produce 300 kilograms of the luxury each year

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Fish keeper David Maerkl catches a Siberian female sturgeon at a fish farm in Frutigen, Switzerland that produces the country's only domestic caviar. The farm plans to increase its 35,000 Siberian sturgeons to 60,000 to produce three tonnes of caviar annually, of which two tonnes will be exported.

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The sturgeons are bred in a mountain stream that tumbles out of the north end of the Loetschberg railway tunnel at 20C. About 35,000 sturgeon were released into the balmy waters six years ago; the farm has produced about 300 kilograms of caviar for the 2011/2012 winter season.

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Employees at the fish farm's laboratory extract caviar from the belly of a Siberian female sturgeon.

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Tobias Felix checks caviar at the Frutigen fish farm laboratory. The caviar is called "Oona," meaning "extraordinary" in Celtic, and is sold in four grades. The best, No. 101, contains eggs handpicked to have a minimum diameter of 2.6 mm and is just five per cent of the total caviar produced.

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Inside the caviar laboratory, which is chilled to between 4C and 7C, Tobias Felix checks an egg after cleaning the roe with a metal sieve-like bowl. “It's a bit like washing gold, only it's black,” he said.

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A large pair of tweezers is used to pick out any eggs that are discolored. Then a fine, powder salt is added to the caviar to draw out the moisture, and make it glisten like black pearls.

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Tobias Felix, Switzerland's only "caviar-meister," says he never tires of sampling the delicacy. “It's great. I get paid to eat caviar every day.”

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An employee holds up a can of Oona caviar. Switzerland has the second highest proportion of millionaire households in the world, at 9.9 per cent, according to the Boston Consulting Group, and is also one of the world's top consumers of caviar per capita.

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