You never stop learning! And we always say that the best answer is: I don’t know. This is what I replied to our friend Sara Jenkins, when she asked me whether it is true that some bottarga sold in America is made in Sardegna from mullets fished in Florida.
So, I asked the expert, our expert, Mario Manca, the president of the Fishermen Cooperative in the Cabras Ponds, which makes the mullet bottarga Gustiamo carries. Gustiamo’s bottarga is called Oro di Cabras.
Mario was clearly annoyed at the question, as if it reminded him of something he is certainly not happy with. Yes, he says, there are “Commercianti” in Cagliari (the capital of Sardegna island) – he spelled out all their names with some disgust – who import the mullet egg sacks from Florida. There are two problems, he says, both equally disturbing:
1. the waters in Florida may be polluted and there is no way to determine whether the fish was contaminated, until you open the finished bottarga. When that happens, the bottarga smells and tastes of petrol.
2 the second problem is that the “Commercianti” work the egg sacks using industrial methods, ie they dry the bottarga in big, fast ovens over 4-5 days (compared to the natural drying of the traditional method used by Oro di Cabras, which takes 30 days – left). By doing so, the bottarga is not fully and homogenously dried and it only looses 20% of its weight (compared to the loss of 50% of the weight with the artisanal method used by Oro di Cabras).
I then asked Mario, does this “Commercianti” bottarga cost less? No, he says, it costs almost the same. Go figure!!!