New Worlder
New Worlder
Episode #81: Cyrus Tabrizi
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Episode #81: Cyrus Tabrizi

Founder of Iranian caviar brand Caspian Monarque.
Transcript

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Overview of one of Caspiuan Monarque’s sturgeon farms in the Caspian Sea. Photo courtesy Caspian Monarque.

Cyrus Tabrizi is the founder of Caspian Monarque, a producer and distributor of fine Iranian caviar. I first met Cyrus last year when we happened to be seated together at a dinner in Udine, Italy during an event called Ein Prosit. After spending a few minutes with him, I began to realize how little I actually understand about caviar and where it comes from. I know it’s considered a luxury product. That caviar is usually expensive. That Russians are known to eat a lot of it. That suddenly millennials are putting it on fried chicken and tater tots. But if you asked me what distinguishes good caviar from great caviar, I couldn’t tell you.

The world of caviar has changed dramatically since 2008 when a global ban on caviar from wild sturgeon was enacted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species after sturgeon were being severely overfished. Now, nearly all of the world’s caviar comes from farmed sturgeon. There are 26 different types of sturgeon and each kind produces unique tasting roe, but the conditions in which each are being raised can vary drastically. The most coveted caviar comes from the Beluga, followed by the Ossetra, sturgeons, which are originally from the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Farmed caviar, however, is coming from anywhere now. There are hundreds of farms all over the world. There’s lots of caviar being farm raised in the United States. It’s being raised in Uruguay. A ton of it is being raised in China. Much of it is not Ossetra and Beluga, but from other species. There is also fish roe from other kinds of fish, such lumpfish, flying fish or even salmon, that are called caviar, though technically they do not fit the definition.

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I tried Cyrus’ caviar in Italy and it is indeed the great stuff. That much I know. He explains why Caspian Monarque stands out, in his words. They are a sustainably minded sturgeon farm in the Caspian Sea, the origin of the finest grades of caviar. As they are being farmed within the Caspian Sea, the natural environment they are from, eating the same food they eat in the wild, they can get the highest quality caviar. However, I cannot even get his caviar, Iranian caviar, in the United States because of a ban on Iranian products in the U.S. He explains why that is and how Iranian caviar industry has a history of legal issues despite being historically sustainable and well managed. That’s why he started the business. He was a lawyer and he liked the challenge.

The caviar industry is one ripe with fraud. There are scandalous producers and misleading labels, though there are ways to know if you are getting caviar from a good source. On Caspian Monarque’s website they actually have a way to check the origin of a tin of caviar by the CITES number on the label, and it’s not just for their caviar, but any legally traded variety. For the most part, it’s up to the consumer to know the difference and understand what they are buying. We talk about how blockchain might be used in the future to help make caviar even more transparent. Who knew there was so much to know about caviar?

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New Worlder
New Worlder
The New Worlder podcast explores the world of food and travel in the Americas and beyond. Hosted by James Beard nominated writer Nicholas Gill and anthropologist Juliana Duque, each episode features a long form interview with chefs, conservationists, scientists, farmers, writers, foragers, and more.
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