2022-11-09 16:33:28 By : Ms. Joan Shaw

The range of products from the Victorian producer is sustainably produced, innovative and comes gift-wrapped in time for party season.

Golden balls of Australian caviar packed with Omega-3: the perfect lift for your next dinner party or next restaurant outing. 

Pop! For many of us, it’s the sound of a champagne cork exiting a bottle, surely one of the defining sounds of spring.

For chef Jae Bang of Melbourne’s Freyja, however, “pop” is the sound of caviar bursting on the palate, one of the defining features of his restaurant’s hero starter of Freyja waffle with Yarra Valley trout roe, cold-smoked sour cream and mixed herbs.

Yarra Valley Caviar co-owner Nick Gorman and Freyja chef Jae Bang. Wayne Taylor

Finding the right degree of “pop” was integral in the creation of the Nordic-leaning dish.

Originally, Bang planned to use imported caviar from sturgeon (often referred to as “true” or “real” caviar). But its prohibitive cost sent him down an alternative path – one much closer to his newly adopted home city.

“I tried all the Yarra Valley Caviar roes, and the trout roe was the one closest to actual caviar for this particular dish because of its size and mouthfeel,” says the chef, who hails from Seoul.

“I wanted more of the pop and to get that you need a certain quantity of roe.”

Farming for caviar at Yarra Valley Caviar’s seafood farm in Thornton, Victoria.  

Presentation is key, too, so the trout roe is served in a silver tin nestled on a bed of ice, just like real caviar.

“Real.” “Actual.” Run the terms past Yarra Valley Caviar co-owner Nick Gorman over the phone and you can just tell he’s rolling his eyes at the prospect of another run-in with the authenticity police.

“We do get grief sometimes about [our product] not being ‘real’ caviar,” he says. “It is salmon caviar, but I usually call it salmon pearls, or salmon roe for preference anyway.”

In any case, Gorman makes it clear he’s too busy right now to waste time quibbling over semantics. With co-owner and fellow aquatic science graduate Mark Fox, Gorman has grown Yarra Valley Caviar from an annual output of two tonnes in 2006 to 25 to 30 tonnes now. It’s a figure achieved not by overstretching – or overstocking – the existing aquaculture farm in Thornton but by buying a second farm, in Murrindindi in north-east Victoria, in 2018.

Hello, smoked salmon pearls, bloody shiraz gin caviar, truffle-infused brook trout pearls, first-harvest salmon caviar ...

Along the way, Yarra Valley Caviar’s range has expanded from the original freshwater salmon and rainbow trout to take in brook trout, polanco (a brand of farmed sturgeon caviar imported from Uruguay) and various gourmet riffs on the classics: hello, smoked salmon pearls, bloody shiraz gin caviar, truffle-infused brook trout pearls, first-harvest salmon caviar (“celebrating the first ever spawning of our young female salmon”), and even an intricate Japanese treatment, Ikura shoyu zuke, which involves a 48-hour marinade of the salmon pearls in soy sauce, bonito and saké “enhanced by hand-harvested wakame”.

Whatever; for anyone outside Yarra Valley Caviar’s 3000 member-strong online Caviar Club, the brand is mostly synonymous with the translucent golden orbs of the original product, with their distinctive saline pop.

Nick Gorman with salmon pearls from Yarra Valley Caviar. Wayne Taylor

So just why is there so much popping going on right now? Put it down to the combined forces of party season and our collective post-COVID demand for the luxury of caviar in all its forms, says Gorman.

“We’ve never been busier.”

And neither has Josh Pelham. As executive chef in charge of 30 dining venues at Flemington Racecourse, he’s ordered 21 kilograms (yes, 21kg) of Yarra Valley salmon roe to tide him over the four days of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, kicking off with Derby Day this Saturday.

It’s bound for dishes such as rockling with cauliflower purée, pickled and roasted zucchini, chardonnay and caviar beurre blanc at The Dining Room; ocean trout fillet with pea purée, Mount Martha mussels, sauce grenobloise and salmon roe in The Committee Room; and smoked salmon crumpet with horseradish, crème fraiche and Yarra Valley caviar (various venues).

Pelham says the differences between sturgeon and salmon caviar are to be celebrated. “They’re quite different products and you use them in different ways,” he says – which is why we’re generally not seeing Yarra Valley Caviar offered in the form of “bumps” from the caviar trolley at fashionable restaurants.

On the other hand, says Pelham, he’d never use black caviar in a chardonnay beurre blanc, for instance. “Black caviar is creamier, yes; but Yarra Valley caviar is fresher.”

Because it’s local? “Well, it hasn’t come from overseas, has it?”

Before incorporating the product on the menu of Anchor, her restaurant in Melbourne’s Elwood, chef and restaurateur Rosalin Virnik visited the Thornton farm to view the annual hand-milking of the salmon, a humane procedure conducted in accordance with Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) guidelines.

Chef Rosalin Virnik’s Caviar tartlet at Anchor in Elwood, Melbourne. 

“I love that about Yarra Valley Caviar,” says Virnik. “It’s a premium, locally produced, sustainable product.”

Virnik heroes it in a starter of caviar tartlet, made from a base of baked potato layered with savoury custard and plentiful pearls. “It’s not the first time I’ve had the dish on the menu, but guests have been asking for it and it’s perfect for spring racing, so I’ve put it back on,” she says.

“I like that it’s something a bit decadent, especially with a glass of champagne.”

So what’s next for the brand? Having installed commercial solar systems at both farms in 2020, Gorman says the plan is to upgrade to battery storage within the next two years with the aim of going entirely off the grid.

Meanwhile, the brand is increasingly popping up on overseas menus; in Asia, top restaurant supporters include Singapore’s Burnt Ends and Odette. In Hong Kong, says Gorman, the brand’s representative takes an innovative approach to marketing the product to her wellness-focused customers.

“She basically says, ‘Instead of getting your Omega-3s from a bottle of fish oil tablets, why not just buy a jar of Yarra Valley Caviar instead?’

“It seems to be hitting the mark.”

The spicy ocean trout salad with green nam jim and salmon pearls at BKK, Melbourne. Jeremy Wright

BKK at HER, Melbourne | Spicy ocean trout salad with green nam jim and salmon pearls

Arturo’s, Woolly Bay Hotel, Sydney | Kingfish crudo with lemon oil, cucumber and salmon pearls

Landmark by Lexus, spring racing carnival, Flemington | Green Ant Gin-cured salmon with beetroot cracker, horseradish cream and Yarra Valley salmon roe

Oncore, Sydney | “Potato and roe”, with seaweed beurre blanc, herring and trout roe

Garçon Bleu, Sofitel Adelaide | House-cured saumon fumé with Yarra Valley salmon roe, avocado, kohlrabi and dill dressing

Follow the topics, people and companies that matter to you.

The Daily Habit of Successful People