As we've previously reported, Russia has banned the import of pretty much every damn bit of food from the West in response to sanctions against the superpower due to the conflict in Ukraine. That means no American or European beef, pork, fish, or dairy has been getting into Russia since last summer.
President Vladimir Putin, in fact, is so royally pissed at the West's continued sanctions that he recently started to destroy any Western food that does happen to cryptically arrive at the border. Just last week, the destruction of 350 tons of banned foreign food in Russia led to outrage and protests amid growing signs of food shortages.
But one food has been granted special status and is permitted to cross in from the West. Yes, it is the food of the czars. I'm talking about salt-cured fish eggs of course, otherwise known as caviar.
That is correct. Due to overfishing in the Caspian Sea, there is evidently not enough aged sturgeon caviar to sate the tastes of oligarchs and their fish-roe-desiring families. I mean, what's a trip to the dacha without a little Beluga served alongside the tears of your disenfranchised countrymen?
Rules are rules, but that doesn't make Putin some sort of delicacy-hating monster. He's more than happy to oblige his country's plutocrats with the equivalent of rich folk catnip. Forget aged balsamic or Tuscan truffles or Grana Padano parmesan. Putin wants his caviar. Embargo be damned!
Agroittica Lombarda SpA, an Italian exporter of caviar, now says Russia is the most important export nation for its homegrown product. The company is located in the town of Calvisano, near Milan, and produces around 25 tons of caviar a year. Its most expensive product is a four-pound tin of Beluga caviar priced at more than US $15,000. The caviar is sold under the brand name Calvisano in most parts of the world.
But not in Russia.
Putin is, if nothing else, a nationalist. He doesn't want his people to think Russian fish can't produce enough Russian caviar to service the needs of the motherland. Therefore, Lelio Mondella, managing director of Agroittica, told Bloomberg Business, "We've had to put a Russian brand name on the tin, and we don't put 'Made in Italy' on it."
Mondella explains further: "The Russians want to eat Russian caviar. I understand that. Rich and powerful Russians can't do without it, so they have made an exception." It's good to be czar-like in Putin's Russia.
Mondella is politely laughing all the way to the bank. He also told Bloomberg Business about a trip off the coast of Sardinia he recently enjoyed on the yacht of a Russian acquaintance. He opened a can of what the host called "a great Russian caviar." Mondella tasted the caviar and then discreetly lifted the tin and looked underneath. The code number proved it was 100 percent Calvisano Italian caviar.
Some rules are made to be broken. Arrivederci, comrades.