Food of the Czars: Italian Caviar Infiltrates the Russian Market

When Russia imposed a trade embargo on imported foods in August 2014, caviar was spared from the list, helping an Italian sturgeon farm to infiltrate Putin’s homeland. From a standing start in 2012, Agroittica Lombarda SpA, Europe’s biggest producer of the “food of the Czars,” now counts Russia as the most important country destination for its luxury product. Photographs by Alessia Pierdomenico for Bloomberg



The farm was opened in the late 1970s, in the small town of Calvisano, east of Milan, when a steelmaker started breeding fish in the hot water from his works. It now produces some 25 tons of caviar a year.

Sixty acres of spring-water tanks are home to sturgeon which take from eight to 20 years to produce the eggs. The most-prized Beluga breed take the longest.

The farm supplies first class air traveler – its biggest market – plus luxury hotels, restaurants and millionaires, among others. 

Its top offering is a 1.8 kilogram (4 pound) tin of Beluga caviar, costing 14,000 euros.

Caviar has long been an Italian delicacy, not just a Russian or Iranian one. Legend says Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci gave the Milanese duchess Beatrice d’Este a sturgeon’s egg in a box encrusted with precious stones.

There are no certified figures for global caviar production, but according to the France-based Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), Italy sold 42 tons in 2014, behind leader China at 54 tons. Russia was third at 40 tons.

An employee mixes in salt during the salting process on the Calvisius caviar production line.

An employee fills tins with caviar.

An employee fills tins with spoons of caviar on the Calvisius caviar production line.

Labels for Siberian and Oscietra caviar on the Calvisius caviar production line.