Caviar...Naturally Yarra Valley
Two Aussie blokes are farming the freshest and purest Atlantic Salmon Caviar in the pristine waters of the Rubicon River.
Ask Mark Fox of Yarra Valley Salmon about his company, and he'll say it's a small fresh aquaculture farm on the Rubicon River in the Yarra Valley Ranges run by two Aussie blokes, committed to treating their fish humanely and providing a product that's entirely natural.
The business, is in fact, one of the only fresh water aquaculture farms in the world to take a completely natural approach to rearing, and milking, its Atlantic Salmon -refusing to use any antibiotics or chemicals.
It is also Australia's only provider of hand- milked Atlantic Salmon caviar - meaning its fish are not put under any undue stress through traditional methods of milking, and are gently returned to the fresh, clean, clear water from forests in the Victorian Alps of the Yarra Valley ranges, which they call home.
Hit by the Black Saturday fires, and the global financial crisis, Mark is the first to admit it's been a tough year - but the passion and commitment of this humble duo, (Mark and business partner Nick Gorman) has kept the business on its feet.
"More than 13 tonne of our fish were wiped out in the fires, so caviar has become our mainstay. We've been lucky in that because of the quality of the product, we've managed to hold our position and grow our sales in other areas."
Just recently the caviar made a debut into the Sydney deli market, with the product practically walking off the shelves.
In a year where 'home brands' became increasingly popular, and where you're normally lucky to shift 20 jars a week, Yarra Valley Salmon is selling more than six times that, and it's also finding itself in top restaurants and venues around the country.
For Mark, it's all about treating the fish gently, and creating an environment in which they can thrive.
"Traditionally, and typically, a needle is used in the belly cavity of the fish to blow the eggs out, and the fish are then dumped."
"It's not something we believe is necessary, humane, or leads to the best quality caviar."
"Our fish are carefully monitored to determine the best time to milk, and are gently hand-milked under an entirely natural anaesthetic â€“ made from clove oil - so as not to cause the fish any undue stress, and they are then returned to their fresh water environment and spawn again the following year."
The reason the fish are so willing to spawn year after year is, Mark believes, directly related to the environment in which they live.
"We raise our fish in long earthen ponds beside the river which are fed by waterfalls that create a strong current in which the fish swim, so they're living in their own natural environment."
With no added antibiotics or chemicals, the fish thrive in the cold, clean and clear waters and are very active, therefore producing a leaner texture, superior body tone and significantly lower fat content.
"A healthier environment makes for a healthier fish and that translates to the quality of the caviar."
He says the fact that the fish are not stressed also means a higher proportion spawn, and because the milking process is a gentle one, the eggs are plump and flawless.
But it's not just the fish and their environment which is 100% natural â€“ the eggs themselves are drained of fluid and packed immediately, with no additives.
So what does the future hold for this small producer?
"We are well on our way to becoming officially organic certified. We're already following all the European organic guidelines, and so this is our focus in coming months."
For the meantime, they're happy to set the benchmark for the industry as the only farm of its kind dedicated to producing caviar in Australia, without any antibiotics or chemicals and the added conscience of knowing - they're doing things right by their fish.