The Fish Breeders of Idaho may be considered a small fish in a big pond when it comes to fish processing plants, but they are doing big things in the world of caviar.
“Were not large but we do a good job of what we do,” said Fish Breeders of Idaho owner and founder Leo Ray.
Ray and his wife started the company back in 1968 in California, but moved up to Idaho because of the water.
“There is more high quality water within 20 miles of us then there is anywhere in the world,” said Ray.
Using the geothermal water of the Hagerman Valley, they focused originally on raising catfish. That eventually extended to Tilapia, and then in 1988 they introduced sturgeon with the help of the College of Southern Idaho and Idaho Fish and Game. Sturgeon eventually led to harvesting caviar. Many people don’t know that caviar isn’t something that is produced overnight. It actually takes around 10 years for a sturgeon to develop eggs.
"We have to grow these fish for 10 years. A lot of money is invested in that fish when you are feeding it for 10 years,” explained Ray.
So how is caviar made? Well after the fish is mature, theY biopsy it, and then biopsy it again, sometimes up to 10 times before they determine the fish is at its ripest point for making caviar.
“It’s that individual attention you put to each fish, killing it at just the right time to get the highest quality of egg and caviar,” said Ray.
When the fish is ready, first they stun it and they kill it and remove all the ovaries.
“This is done in a special room by itself so there is no contamination going into the caviar room,” said Ray.
From there they use a screen to separate the eggs from the ovaries and wash the eggs. They then add four percent salt, and then using tweezers they go through yet again and hand pick out and impurities.
"Then the product is ready to be put in a tin and we store it at about 26 degrees,” explained Ray.
Then it is sold and shipped off.
“Our main market for caviar is on the East Coast. We do put a lot up in the Seattle area,“ said Ray.
Most of it ends up in extremely high end restaurants. They usually sell a 1,000 gram tin for $1,000.
“That’s what we sell it for and it will sell for four to five times that by the time it’s broken down and served in the restaurant,” said Ray.
But Ray said China has stepped up and is shipping in caviar in for a fourth of that price. But Ray said he isn’t scared, that’s because he said the people who are purchasing caviar don’t care about the cost, they care about the quality.
“I haven't eaten too much caviar other than our own so I’m not too good at comparing our caviar to everybody else's but my customers have and they all tell us that we are producing the best caviar that is being produced on a farm anywhere in the world,” said Ray.
Ray said many of the people who are eating caviar don’t even know where Idaho is, let alone that it is producing arguably some of the finest caviar in the world, but regardless he said he is proud that his product is made right here in Idaho.