The history of the mysterious and celebrated sturgeon Caviar of Ferrara begins in the middle of the sixteenth century, when the recipe of this caviar, produced from the Po sturgeons, is written in the book “ Libro Novo nel qual s'insegna a far d'ogni sorte di vivanda” by Christofaro di Messisbugo, Scalco of the Duke Alfonso I° at the Este Court in Ferrara, published in Venice in 1557, after the death of the author.
At page 110 we can find the recipe “Caviaro per mangiare, fresco, o per salvare” and the particularity of this recipe resides in the fact that, differently from the traditional east Europe and Asian caviar, the sturgeon eggs are cooked. Historicallly in the seventeen century in the Po a large number of sturgeons were captured every year, and this is also reported by Joseph-Jérôme De Lalande in his renowned book “Voyage en Italie” volume 8° page 269, published in Paris in 1771. You can consult it on google books at this link
The Ferrara Caviar cames back to light in the middle of the 20th century, just before and after the second world war. In Ferrara, Benvenuta Ascoli, a Jewish cook, opened a delicatessen shop named Nuta, from the contraction of her name. The main attraction of this shop was the Ferrara Caviar, that for about 20 years was widely exported in Italy and in Switzerland. But in the year 1941 Nuta died, or more probably escaped from Ferrara because of the promulgation of the racial laws by the fascism.
For a few more years a previous Nuta assistant, Bianconi, and his wife Matilde Pulga run the activity and produced the caviar, whose recipe was absolutely top secret, and than, because of the ravages of the war and the rarefaction of the sturgeons in the Po river caused by the pollution, the Ferrara caviar jumped again in the black.
The recipe was then adventurously rescued by a local notable, Roberto Brighenti, very well inclined to gastronomic pleasures, who was able to activate a net of relationships and have the recipe from the Nuta family emigrated in the Jewish community of New York. The Ferrara Caviar was then produced again, but only for the happiness of few lucky persons, from his cook Giuseppina.
At the death of Brighenti in 1984 the saga of the Ferrara caviar was down again.
You can read the history of the Ferrara caviar in the Italian book, yes you need to read Italian, “Capoccia Grossa” lo storione del Po tra immaginario e cultura materiale, n° 31, Quaderni del centro etnografico ferrarese Ed Interbooks 1988-89. A very good fiction from this argument was published in the book “La signora del Caviale
” (the lady of the caviar, obviously Nuta), by Michele Marziani, Cult Editore 2009.
Now the sturgeons are very rare in the Po river and the are of course protected.
We arrived to get sturgeons from a breeding site and to prepare the Ferrara caviar with the ancient recipe with the precious help of Giuseppina, and now, one more time, the ancient traditional recipe lives again.