Once a year event hand-milking for culinary delicacy underway in Yarra Valley

Posted by Josette Dunn on 17th May 2010

More than ten thousand salmon are being individually hand milked for caviar at Yarra Valley Salmon – the only fresh water aquaculture farm in Australia to milk Atlantic Salmon by hand.

This year’s milking is only the second since the farm was hit by the Black Saturday fires last year, wiping out more than 13 tonne of fish.

Despite the significant shortage of salmon, the farm has thousands of healthy fish which spawn year after year, and so has refocused its business on its quality caviar.

The move has proved a fruitful one, with the caviar winning awards and proving popular in leading restaurants and gourmet delis around the country.

Yarra Valley Salmon general manager Mark Fox says the caviar is good quality is because of the way the salmon are treated.

“We refuse to use antibiotics and chemicals and allow our fish plenty of room to move around. Because they have lots of room and we don’t pump them full of food, they’re lean and healthy and this reflects in the quality of the roe which is plump and bright.”

He says the flawless condition of the caviar is also largely to do with the way the fish are milked.

“Traditionally, and typically, a needle is used in the belly cavity of the fish to blow the eggs out, and the fish are then dumped. It’s not something we believe is necessary, humane, or leads to the best quality caviar.”

“Our fish are carefully monitored to determine the best time to milk, and are gently hand-milked under an entirely natural anaesthetic – made from clove oil – so as not to cause the fish any undue stress, and they are then returned to their fresh water environment and spawn again the following year.”

Milking caviar in this way is gaining popularity worldwide, because it is more humane, sustainable, and economically sensible.  It is particularly important for harvesting caviar from Sturgeon due to the fact that many species of Sturgeon are threatened with extinction in the world due to over fishing.  It makes sense to harvest caviar in this way, to allow the fish to spawn again and again, resulting in a much higher volume of caviar to be harvested from one fish.Milking requires all hands on deck, and no-one is spared; national sales manager Nick Gorman dons waders for the milking, saying he wouldn’t be anywhere else.

“It’s an exhausting process, with long days out in the elements, but it’s very rewarding to see the end result.”