Caviar: Gourmets consider it the ultimate delicacy, a myth even. But massive overfishing has driven sturgeon, whose forbears already swam rivers and oceans when dinosaurs wandered the Earth, to the brink of extinction. Trade in wild caviar was therefore banned many years ago. In order to be able to still assuage the global appetite, numerous businesses producing the black gold in aquacultures have sprung up everywhere. Many of them provide products that can compare to wild caviar in terms of quality.
Oona – a sustainable fish farming pioneer in the Alpine region and one of the most prestigious caviar manufactories in the world – is based in the Swiss canton of Bern, at the foot of the high Alps. About 80,000 Siberian and Russian sturgeon roam in large pools filled with crystal clear mountain spring water.
Roughly 1.3 tons of the rare delicacy are harvested each year. This may seem a tiny quantity in comparison to international competitors, but as far as quality is concerned, Oona’s – entirely manually processed – products are among the best in the industry.
Sales Director Heinrich-Marc Stehli, explains the Swiss caviar pioneers’ quality standards with confidence: “Our focus is on providing absolutely fresh products. We focus on humane treatment of our sturgeon and strive to sell honest, authentic caviar that is stored for short periods only and is free of additives and preservatives. It is the only way to be able to harvest top quality caviar with delicate skin, tender texture, and a subtle glaze. Our brand stands for Swissness, enjoyment, and sustainability.“
The Swiss producer does indeed refrain from using Borax to stabilise the roe and other additives to intensify colours and flavours. Therefore, fresh Oona caviar can be stored for only approx. nine weeks without spoiling. Other than a touch of salt – 4 % at a maximum – no ingredients are added. And it takes no more than 15 minutes from harvesting, gently cleaning and salting the roe to filling the caviar into the typical caviar jars.
Today, Oona produces five quality levels, and all varieties have their own fans. The one most in demand, however is the Nº103 traditionnel selection, boasting a wonderfully nutty, mossy flavour. The Nº102 jeune variety is ideal for beginners, contains only a minimum of salt, and is shipped on the day of harvesting. Limité (Nº 101), a top variety and true rarity, makes up only two per cent of the overall production and impresses gourmets with particularly large pearls and a perfect maturity level.
Oona also added Osietra Kaviar, caviar from Russion sturgeon, to its product range two years ago and distributes it as part of the Carat label. Osietra Carat caviar colours range from silver-grey to olive-golden, and it features intensely nutty, slightly earthy flavours – a strong caviar for true connoisseurs.
Oona has also set new standards in the industry as far as product presentation is concerned. In cooperation with Glasi Hergiswil, they developed an almost sculptural form of packaging. Each jar is a handmade unique specimen – ice cubes embracing monumental caviar pearls. The cubes provide the roe with perfect protection for shipment and help maintain ideal temperatures. In addition, the stylish Ice Cube makes for an elegant table decoration object.
Of course, Oona does not only process the valuable sturgeon roe. The fish’s delicious, firm meat is sold to restaurants and shops, and is used for exquisite smoked fish specialties. And its robust skin serves as raw material for Swiss designer Sabina Brägger’s exclusive, practical, and everlasting accessories.
As an exclusive partner of Swiss Deluxe Hotels, Oona caviar can be found on the menus of Switzerland’s finest hotel restaurants. Guests of the iconic Bellevue Palace Bern, for instance, have the opportunity to taste it. The hotel, located right next to the Federal Palace at the heart of the city’s historic district is the official residence for the Swiss Confederation’s guests of state. Bellevue executive chef Gregor Zimmermann is an avid Oona fan, because of the caviar’s well-balanced flavours and its texture and also because of the careful treatment of natural resources involved in the delicacy’s production.
The chef serves Oona caviar generously and preferably in a no-nonsense version. Nothing should distract his guests from the pure delight of caviar. The menu of his VUE restaurant currently includes a fluffy omelette blanche that comes with 20g of Nº103 traditionnel. Sometimes, Zimmermann decides to surprise guests with unconventional creations, however: caviar, combined with a paper-thin chocolate leaf, for instance, an extravagant, sweet and salty luxury snack.
By the way: All fans can enjoy Oona caviar «on site». The Frutigen Tropenhaus features a Gault&Millau award-winning restaurant that focuses on – caviar. Of course.
words by Thomas Hauer