Thomas Hayward talks to Ekaterina Bataeva, Founder & CEO of Volzhenka Caviar
Born in Astrakhan on the Volga river also known as the “City of Caviar”, raised in the family business (Volzhenka Farm) producing some of the rarest caviars in the world, graduated in Economics & Finance from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and London School of Economics, Ekaterina’s future was written in the stars; she started her own luxury caviar brand based on tradition, expert control, high-quality standards and ecological respect.
Ekaterina aims to introduce Russia’s finest caviar (Beluga caviar, Russian Oscietra, Siberian Sturgeon, Sevruga caviar) to the world. All these high-end caviar products are currently available to buy on-line.
LM: What image does the Volzhenka Caviar trademark generate in Russia, and how are you hoping to reproduce this in the Global Market?
EB: The Volzhenka brand will be launching soon in Russia, however Volzhenka farm has had a range of products for decades.
Acquired through generations of family experience, the Volzhenka farm uses meticulous processing techniques and cutting-edge equipment. Sitting on the banks of the Volga River, a giant water divider is turned on every five years to refresh and protect the fish’s natural habitat. All f the sturgeons are also kept in half-open tanks: 11-metres deep, they welcome the flowing waters of the Volga River, ensuring that sturgeons feed on natural fodder and spawn, like in the wild.
Volzhenka embraces both its region and its Russian heritage. Suppliers of the best Russian caviar, the brand accounts for 30% of Russia’s production.
At Volzhenka, our seal of quality and expertly controlled production enables us to stand out on the global market. We are among the very few who can control the whole supply chain; from the live sturgeon all the way to the eggs on the plate. This, in addition to decades of experience and unrivalled quality, means that Volzhenka will be well-armed to revolutionize the Caviar market. I call it the Caviar Revival.
LM: In what ways has history helped define and distinguish the trademark?
EB: I would say history and geography. The Sturgeon, sometimes referred to as a “living fossil”, originally comes from the Caspian Sea – more specifically from the tributary Rivers in the north, where they have lived for millions of years. Consequently, the fish remain pure to their origin and are not forced to live outside their natural habitat, such as in the southern hemisphere.
As for the history, at Volzhenka Farm we have experimented for centuries in order to achieve the perfect recipes, and today we still use old techniques that have been passed down through the decades. Volzhenka Caviar is hand-produced and the sturgeon is part of our tradition; our experts know what time of the year, water temperature and even what time day when the Sturgeon is more tranquil! You will be surprised to know that they have so many secret techniques that only an Astrakhan born expert would be able to understand.
LM: What are the difficulties in producing high-grade caviar; how do you ensure the highest quality for your customers?
EB: Our farm trademark is truly exceptional, the unique taste being one that can only be produced from wild caviar. Our fish always stay in the natural vicinity, which is the key to keeping quality at its highest. During winter months, the waters freeze and the fish hibernate close by: the hibernation process matures eggs that are altogether bigger, creamier and lighter in colour. If the fish are kept in tanks or shallow waters, hibernation never occurs, thus killing the taste.
This is both the biggest privilege and the biggest threat. The risks are high in the natural environment, being subject to environmental disasters and severe weather conditions. The high production cost makes the potential for a production failure all the more dangerous. We are in competition with farms that use ponds, pools and even indoor pools to farm sturgeon, meaning they have less risk and far more control over the production costs.
However, we have a strong ethos that we only serve those who are passionate about Caviar and can appreciate what we produce. It’s a love affair with tradition, culture and life itself! For us, it’s more than just a trade – it’s a life story.
That’s not to say that other Caviar is bad, but simply that Russian quality is far more superior. Just think about the natural habitat of any species. Sturgeons have survived in certain areas for millions of years for a reason; they are not genetically made to survive naturally in alternative environments and still provide the same quality. That’s in addition to the meticulous techniques along with centuries of experiments and experience.
LM: You’ve spoken about an “ecological responsibility… sustainable approach” how do you achieve these methods?
EB: Driven by ecological responsibility, the Volzhenka farm has become known for the authenticity of its product and sustainable approach. With many species becoming endangered, like the Sevruga sturgeon, Volzhenka safeguards future generations of wild sturgeons by giving away part of the produced roe for cultivation. To this date, Volzhenka has also released over 44 million sturgeons into the Caspian Sea basin, thus regenerating the species’ wild population. We also only use the most humane approach in extracting the caviar: we don’t kill the Sturgeon, but use the incision technique and then keep the fish to feed on natural fodder and spawn again on its own pace within the following 4-5 years.
LM: With restrictions on exports, how can you ensure the same quality of Caviar being produced through overseas collaborations?
EB: We are normally asked to provide our expertise to other closely associated farms either to help them improve the quality or produce different types and grades.
We used to do this because we are passionate about Sturgeons in general, however after the restrictions on exports took place, we started using their facilities to produce our own if we ever have a greater production demand. On site, the brand’s Astrakhan born and bred experts control and oversee the production, thus guaranteeing the consistency of Volzhenka’s high-quality trademark across all products.
Volzhenka Caviar – How and where?
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By Thomas Hayward