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The Melbourne Foodie

Yarra Valley Caviar

by ALLAN on JUNE 5, 2012

Yarra Valley Caviar is a product I’ve been aware of and enjoyed for many years – yet I knew very little about it (besides being delicious). So an invitation to visit the source of the product was one I just had to say yes to.

The source of Yarra Valley Caviar is on the Rubicon River not far from Lake Eildon. The journey to the property took us through Healesville, over The Black Spur and finally up to Thornton. The farm is not open to the public so don’t drive up looking for farm-gate sales.

A few statistics are in order here. They take a natural approach to production with the fish having plenty of room to move. They create waterfalls to produce currents in the water that the fish can swim against to grow strong and remain active. No chemicals, hormones or antibiotics are used and the farm is heading towards organic certification. There are approximately 200,000 fish on-site and they take three years to reach maturation.

The salmon are ‘hand-milked’ annually during May, so this trip was a rare chance to see the process in action. We were met by marine biologist Hayden who explained the process we were about to see. The fish are taken from the large ponds and placed into tubs which have clove oil added. Within 4-5 minutes the fish are naturally anesthetised and basically sleeping.

Only then are they taken from the water and held belly down over large plastic tubs. Gravity starts to work instantly and the caviar begin to pour from the fish. The process is sped up by massaging the fishes belly to remove the caviar in about 30 seconds. Each fish can produce up to 600 grams of caviar.

The fish are then put into fresh water tubs where they come back to consciousness within a few minutes. They are then put back into the large pools with hand nets. In all it’s about a 10 minute process and designed to produce as little stress on the fish as possible.

That all sounds pretty simple until you understand this is a bitterly cold day with constant rain and the workers are wading around in watery ponds, freeing mud and handling seriously slippery and cold fish. These guys must really love their work as they’re at it for a month until all 50,000 salmon have been milked. In this time that’ll produce a record 14 tons of caviar.

The best part of the day was actually having a go at the milking myself. Holding a slippery salmon under one arm and pushing on its belly to ‘milk-it’ was actually pretty easy and kind of fun. Mind you I only did one fish!

Once harvested the caviar is drained of fluid, lightly brined and packed immediately. It has a 10 week shelf life and can be frozen with virtually no change to the delicate flavour or texture.

Since coming back I’ve been enjoying a few sample jars of salmon caviar in a variety of different ways. My current favourite has to be a slice of Phillippa’s toasted organic boule with mayonnaise, avocado and Yarra Valley Caviar. The caviar pops in the mouth and release the most fantastic gently fishy flavour.

All it all it was a great day to see something really unique (and delicious). A huge thumbs-up to Mark, Nick, Kirstie, Hayden and all the guys we met at Yarra Valley Caviar.

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