The history of caviar in Louisiana dates back to the 1920s, when Russians working in the oil industry harvested the eggs of sturgeon they found in the Atchafalaya Basin. Once plentiful across the world, sturgeon populations have been so decimated that caviar imports/exports are now closely regulated and thus, very expensive. As a result, caviar producers have widened their nets to include the other ancient two fish species capable of producing the salty egg goodness: paddlefish and bowfin (more commonly known as “choupique” in Louisiana).
In 2016, three women — Alden Lagasse, Amy Wilson
Cajun Caviar’s signature product is its bowfin caviar, harvested from the fresh water of the Atchafalaya Basin. It has a mild, delicate flavor and firm, black pearls with a low salt content — all for a reasonable price: starting at just $30 for a 1.25 oz. jar. Traditional premium sturgeon caviars can cost hundreds of dollars per ounce, putting the delicacy out of reach for most consumers. Because Cajun Caviar is locally produced, it is both more affordable and more sustainable.
We spoke with Amy Wilson about all things caviar.
What inspired the three of you
to purchase the Louisiana Caviar Co. from founder John Burke in 2016?
We had enjoyed his caviar for years as he
The three of you obviously have experience in the food industry, but how steep was the learning curve for entering the caviar business?
We worked with John for a good six months before taking over the company, and he is still happy to answer questions that might come up.
How much time do each of you spend running the business? What’s the biggest challenge for you?
It differs between all of us and from season to season. The biggest challenge is getting people to think differently about caviar. In the past, it seemed to be more reserved for the wealthy or only on special occasions. Our caviar is an affordable luxury that should be enjoyed throughout the year — not just during the holidays.
Your Cajun Caviar is made from the eggs of bowfin fish, better known as choupique. What’s your process for catching and processing the fish for their eggs?
Local fisherman catch most of the fish using nets, about an hour from New Orleans. Our processing is what makes our caviar unique from other bowfin caviar on the market, so I can’t tell you the secret.
Is it true that you can only harvest the fish eggs between December and February? How does that limited availability affect Cajun Caviar? How long is a jar good for?
You can catch bowfin throughout the year, but the biggest harvest is in the cooler months. Unopened jars are good for up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator.
How would you describe the flavor of your bowfin caviar?
It’s got a mild, delicate flavor — no fishy smell at all. It’s very lightly salted with a bright taste. The individual eggs look like shiny black pearls that pop in your mouth just like they should.
What sets it apart from other types of caviar?
Its mild flavor and affordability
How does it compare price/quality-wise to other caviars on the market?
It’s a fourth of the price of osetra and beluga caviar, and the quality is comparable — not to mention it’s a domestic caviar.
You also sell a paddlefish caviar? How is it different? Any other products you hope to add in the future?
Paddlefish has a more earthy flavor with a mossy green to dark gray color. We are working on adding a few different flavors for this holiday season.
In addition to selling Cajun Caviar online and in select stores in South Louisiana, Cajun Caviar is served in a number of prestigious New Orleans restaurants (Galatoire’s, Restaurant August, Restaurant R’Evolution, Willa Jean and Commander’s Palace, to name a few). How do you make those connections? Do you approach the chef with an idea for a dish? Or do they find you?
Both for sure! We get emails and phone calls because of posts that chefs have seen on social media or news articles that we have been mentioned in. We also have been making an effort to get out and meet new chefs and let them sample our products, so they can taste why Cajun Caviar is so unique. Also, many restaurants in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast had been using Cajun Caviar for years and continued to support us when we bought the company.
What are some of your favorite ways to eat caviar? Any combinations that might surprise people?
With french fries and creme fraiche, or on top of oysters or crab.
What do you wish more people knew about caviar?
That not all high quality caviar is expensive or too fishy.
Is the premium price of caviar due to scarcity, quality or the work required to extract and process the eggs? (i.e. why does it cost so much?)
Yes, it has to do with all of that in most cases. Fortunately for us, choupique are not endangered, and we harvest and process the caviar locally, which helps us keep prices down.
To learn more about Cajun Caviar and some of the creative ways New Orleans chefs are using the delicacy, check out this in-depth article from The Advocate.
Alden Lagasse, Amy Wilson and Alison Vega-Knoll, Cajun Caviar
@cajuncaviar / http://www.cajuncaviar.com
New Orleans, LA
All photos provided by Cajun Caviar