The history of Botargo

Sardinian caviar is hidden in a fish, mullet. Even if mullet is not considered the best of fish, it is greatly appreciated in Sardinia.

Why?
Because of its eggs. Washed, salted and dried, these eggs became a true delicacy with an intense taste and a slightly bitter aftertaste, a bit like almonds. This is botargo. The first people to salt and season the egg sacks of mullet were the Phoenicians.


Fish pond in Cabras, XVIII century print



Extraction of
egg sacks

Arabs called them battarikh (salted fish eggs) and gradually spread the product to Mediterranean countries.

“I do not recall ever eating anything more delicious” announced Bartolomeo Platina, in the XV century, in his book "Il piacere onesto e della buona salute" [Honest pleasure and the pleasure of good health]. A document dating back to 1386 contains the description of a Catalonian-Aragonese pirate ship capturing a ship sailing from the port of Oristano and loaded with “salted eels and botargo”.

Browsing through documents from Sardinia and other areas there is no shortage of praise for this amber-coloured delicacy
.



Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Romans – the people of the Mediterranean have always loved this amber-coloured food. Sardinians were just as enthusiastic about it.

It was used as a gift or given in exchange for other items – it was a particularly precious item, but only for some. Freshwater fishermen and tuna fishers were particularly fond of it.

Most large stores and “chic” restaurants offer this delicacy today, yet in the 1970s very few people had ever heard about it. To obtain a botargo baffa, fishermen had to be contacted directly and it was unthinkable to order large quantities. Today it is considered Sardinian gold and the market for it has rapidly expanded. It is now exported to France, Germany, Japan and Spain, as well as the US and the rest of the American continent

 
“day” departure



Once upon a time… botargo preparation

Why?
There is no shortage of mullet in Japan, Australia or elsewhere, but only the sea around Sardinia gives local mullet botargo its unique taste, to enjoy at every mouthful.

The largest production areas are Alghero, Carloforte, Sant'Antioco, San Teodoro, Cabras, Porto Pino, Cagliari and Tortolì. There are small botargo production companies in Tuscany, Sicily, Calabria, Provence, Turkey and Tunisia. However, the unique mixture of seabed, climate and preparation process gives Sardinian botargo its special taste.



Using curved tiles to get fish out of the net

 
Old photograph of fishermen in the Cabras pond



 


A “nacarra”, the ancient boat used in the Cabras fish farms in the past


Fisherman from Cabras using a “fassoi”
(ancient boat made with lagoon reeds)


- Photographs taken from the book “I Pescatori di Cabras” [the fishermen of Cabras], by Mena Manca Cossu, Editrice S'Alvure -

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