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Stacey Vanek-Smith: Traditionally, fine caviar came from Russia. But it’s increasingly hard to raise sturgeon in Russia, and now other countries are trying to make a name in the trade. Like Uruguay. Annie Murphy has more.
Annie Murphy: About 25 years ago, Walter Alcalde was running a shipping business in the port of Montevideo. He had friends from all over the world, and one night as he dined with some Russian sailors and merchants, he had a big idea. His son Javier tells the story:
Javier (voice of interpreter): It came about while they were eating caviar on the ships. According to some of the Russians, government scientists had done a study and figured out that Uruguay and Australia had the special conditions needed to raise sturgeon for caviar.
Walter Alcalde started learning how to produce caviar. Two decades later, his son Javier runs the family caviar business Rio Negro Caviar. It currently exports five tons of caviar to places like the U.S., France and Russia. And the caviar even sells here in Uruguay.
Alvaro Verderosas is the executive chef at Arcadia, a five-star restaurant in downtown Montevideo. He’s been serving Rio Negro Caviar for the past five years.
Alvaro Verderosas (voice of interpreter): When people see it on the menu, they’re surprised that Uruguay produces caviar, and then they try it and they’re surprised that it’s so good. Last year, I was in a competition in Lyon, France, and they did a taste test with seven varieties of caviar, and they found the Uruguan caviar to be a very high quality.
Uruguay’s climate is part of the the secret to its caviar. Elena Rogova moved here with her husband from Russia 12 years ago to help raise sturgeon for Rio Negro caviar. She says this part of Uruguay looks and feels just like the region of Russia where she’s from, near the Caspian Sea and Volga River, and the traditional home of caviar. But there’s one crucial difference:
Elena Rogova (voice of interpreter): There’s very little pollution, while in Russia there’s a lot of industry and the environment is too contaminated for raising sturgeon.
The next challenge for Uruguay is getting its own people to eat more caviar. Like neighboring Argentina, this is a red-meat nation. And not just that, Uruguayan caviar costs about $2,000 a pound.
This is Annie Murphy for Marketplace.
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