The mill was originally completed in 1834 and was the property of one Mr Courbin, a man from nearby Mios. His mill sought to capitalise on the current of the lively Lacanau stream, which flows into the river Leyre (which in turn flows into the waters of the Bassin d’Arcachon). The water mill ground out flour for more than a hundred years, ceasing production after the Second World War, by which time it could not compete with large-scale mills such as the Grand Moulins establishment in Bordeaux.
The mill fell into disuse before being acquired, in 1968, by fish-farming enthusiasts Messrs Carré and Ricaud. They dug out an area which was converted into a basin for trout farming, the fish being sold on to restaurants, fishmongers and pond-owners in the area. In the 1970s, other ponds were added and open to the public. The mill even ran its own restaurant.
|The mill as it looked during its trout-farming days.|
The CEMAGREF had imported specimens of the freshwater baerii sturgeon (Acipenser baerii) from Siberia with a view to studying the reproduction and breeding of the species in captivity. Cassadotte, on the strength of Mr Carré’s fish-rearing credentials, was selected to partner the institute in this endeavour and the 200 fish, born in 1982, were transferred to new specially-built ponds. The first reproductions were achieved in the mid-1980s ahead of the first caviar being produced in 1993. The trout-farming activity soon ceased as production at what was France’s first dedicated caviar farm gained momentum. The output was labelled “Caviar de Gironde”.
|Remnants of a flour mill past...|
The fish, which enjoy a protein-rich low-fat diet, are constantly monitored by a five-strong team of specialists throughout an eight-year cycle, “from egg to egg or roe to roe” in the words of Nicolas. The finishing touches to the hand-crafted caviar are carried out in high-tech “laboratories”. This all adds to the pricetag of the end-product. “When you consider all the time, attention, food and infrastructure that goes into each tin of caviar, you get a sense of why it’s so expensive,” Nicolas says reassuringly!
|The "laboratories" and sturgeon swimming in their final spring-water pool.|
Rest assured, other varieties of local caviar are also available, with similar facilities operating in Le Teich and Saint-Sulpice-et-Cameyrac. However, Nicolas claims that he’s painstakingly tried specimens of each and that the Cassadotte mill’s production “wins hands-down”. We’ll have to take his arguably partisan word for it, unless anyone is willing to join me in a marathon caviar-tasting session!
- Find it: Route de la Cassadotte, Biganos
- Guided tours are organised between March and October. Contact information available on the website: www.caviardefrance.com
- Thanks to Nicolas Castro for his time and informative presentation when we met in late December 2012! Some of his caviar-related recipes can be seen here: http://caviardefrance.cuisineblog.fr