Switzerland’s first caviar, Oona, comes from farmed Siberian surgeon in the Swiss Alps.
Reuters’ Caroline Copley visited the facility in December 2011, during the first harvest.
Employees in white aprons and latex gloves meticulously hand-pick fish eggs to produce some of the world’s finest caviar.
Caviar is the unfertilized eggs of fish, also known as roe. Caviar can come from several varieties of fish, but traditionally refers to fish eggs from wild sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan, which border the Caspian sea, are the world's largest producers of caviar.
Sturgeon have been around since before the dinosaurs, but today they are threatened from overfishing. Sturgeon do not reproduce annually — it can take up to 20 years for the fish to mature so they can produce roe — which makes the species especially vulnerable to over-exploitation.
The Tropenhaus farm was engineered by Peter Hufschmeid who came up with the idea to divert runoff water from a railway tunnel under the Bernese Alps.
The water is warm 68 degrees, helping the sturgeon to develop more quickly than in frigid Russian waters.
The complex has expanded to 60,000 fish to produce up to three tons of high-quality caviar each year and 18 tons of sturgeon meat.
The sturgeons are bred in large basins that are filtered. Sturgeons are caught in large nets after they are scanned with ultra-sound technology to see if the fish eggs are ready to be harvested.
Oona comes in four grades. The highest-quality grade contains eggs with a minimum grain size of 2.6 millimetre that are selected by hand. A 30-gram tin (a little more than one ounce) costs $232.
Oona rivals some of the most famous and sought-after caviars that come from three species of sturgeon — beluga, osertra, and sevruga. An ounce of caviar from beluga sturgeon can cost up to $285.
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