Sturgeon raised in the mountains of Chiang Mai produce their first batches of caviar
THE SUPPORT FOUNDATION has been busy recently celebrating yet another triumph – the production of its very own Siberian sturgeon caviar. More commonly associated with waters in colder climes, the fish are being raised as part of Her Majesty the Queen’s Baan Lek Nai Pa Yai (Little House in the Big Forest) project high in the mountains of Chiang Mai’s Wiang Haeng district.
“The water temperature on Doi Dam drops as low as minus two degrees Celsius,” Dr Somchai Thoranisorn, director of the Model Farm Projects, told guests at last week’s “A Spoonful of Love” launch event at Cafe Parisien in the Glasshouse@Sindhorn on Wireless Road.
“In January 2002, Her Majesty came to Doi Dam for the first time to witness the ongoing projects of Baan Lek Nai Pa Yai,” recalls Dr Jaranthada Karnasuta, an ichthyologist and adviser to the Office of His Majesty's Principal Private Secretary.
“The Queen was deeply concerned about conditions in the border area around Doi Dam, which was said to be rampant with drugs. On a positive side though, the area was still untouched. The watershed forests were abundant and the streams had plenty of clean, clear water. Her Majesty asked the hilltribe people what kind of fish lived in the stream, and whether they managed to eat them and earn a living from them. They replied that the stream was at such a high altitude and so cold that the fish from downstream could not make it that far.
“Her Majesty then instructed her assistants to find fish species that could survive in cold water. She turned to me – I was at that time Deputy Director General of the Department of Fisheries – and asked, ‘Shall we try and raise imported cold-water fish? Will it have a negative impact on the environment?’ From this royal initiative, the working committee conducted studies, and decided on rainbow trout, which can withstand very cold temperatures. With the support of the Canadian government, we experimented with this species at the Baan LekNai Pa Yai project in Doi Dam and it proved successful,” Dr Jaranthada says.
“However, the production costs were so high that we had to change our initial plan and let the villagers raise the fish for sale only and use the proceeds to buy cheaper and more accessible sources of protein for themselves. Rainbow trout is a delicious fish with firm succulent flesh, and not many bones. Thanks to the high market demand, rainbow trout from Doi Dam provides a good income for the villagers.”
Eight years ago, the project decided to spread its wings.
Dr Jaranthada again takes up the tale: “Through its cordial bilateral relations with Thailand, Russia presented Her Majesty the Queen with Siberian sturgeon roe, which she gave to the Department of Fisheries to put in nurseries on Doi Inthanon. They were then sent to the Baan Lek Nai Pa Yai project at Doi Dam. Thanks to a climate that’s cool all year round, the sturgeon successfully hatched for the first time in Southeast Asia. The fish does not hatch fast so only after nurturing them for eight years were we able to harvest the first batch of sturgeon caviar. Training was given by a specialist from Russia and we presented the caviar to Their Majesties and Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn to taste. They were delighted, sturgeon meat is also tasty and nutritious so now we are planning to raise sturgeons in different ponds to ensure a good supply,” he explains.
The Modern Thai Farms projects, of which Baan Lek Nai Pa Yai is one, have also enjoyed several other successes in bringing a wider variety of agricultural produce to the Thai plate.
“Some years ago. China presented Her Majesty with 100 Shitou goose eggs for her projects. Her Majesty gave them to the Livestock Department to hatch, and they were raised at the Model Farm project in Ban Yang Klang, Angthong province. Since then Shitou geese have been raised in every province. It is one of the world’s heaviest geese, with the male weighing up to 10 to 12 kilograms, and the female weighing eight to nine kg,” Somchai says.
“Shitou meat fits well in both eastern and western cuisine too, which has made it popular with restaurants.
“One more product that we are proudly presenting today is Dok Kleu, a fleur de sel and sea salt. It is produced in Phetchaburi’s Baan Laem district on a coastal plot that was presented to Her Majesty some years ago. It used to be a salt farm and the Queen thought it could be suitable as a farm for sea animals. This was at a time when shrimp farming was all the rage and was causing severe damage to the environment. We wanted to turn it into a zero waste farm but after testing the salinity of the land and finding it very high, we decided to continue with high quality sea salt farming and breed brine shrimp for aquatic animals. The outcome has been excellent,” he says.
The Support Foundation is also behind several other products, among them Arabica coffee from the Highland Agricultural Development projects in Ban Pang Khon and Doi Mon Lan, Chiang Rai, and organic, temperate-climate vegetables from various projects in the north.
“In addition to promoting handicrafts for which the foundation is best known, Her Majesty the Queen has always worked to further the royal initiatives of His Majesty the King in improving the well-being of all his people in every region,” says Thanpuying Charungjit Teekara, Deputy Private Secretary to Her Majesty the Queen.
“I remember accompanying Her Majesty the Queen on her trips to the highlands and her insistence that we refer to the ethnic peoples as ‘Thai hill people’ to stress they too are part of this country. During every visit, Her Majesty would spend a lot of time asking people about their well-being and looking at ways to help them earn sufficient income without practising the shifting cultivation that was no longer sustainable and was harming the forests and environment. Her Majesty found substitute work for them, not too onerous or difficult, but tasks they were already accustomed to. The women would do embroidery in their own traditions, while the men would do basketry. The Support Foundation would then buy all these products.
“The Baan Lek Nai Pa Yai project was a way of providing sources of income and occupations as well as new agricultural skills for the villagers. The projects help provide them with sources of food, rice, vegetables, herbs, as well as livestock, all benefiting the communities and their environment.”
And those projects have paid off handsomely both for the beneficiaries and those who buy their product. With 56 agricultural training centres and 18 development stations across the country, the foundation can be proud of its 40 years of hard work.
And now there’s caviar too.
Cafe Parisien’s chef Herve Frerard did the products proud last week introducing a menu that featured baked sturgeon fillet, Mediterranean style vegetable and saffron Beurre Blanc, mushroom feuillete, caviar Malossol, fresh sea urchin and yazu cream, marinated rainbow trout fillet with blood orange and watercress cream, roasted Shitou goose fillet with ratte potatoes and lemon thyme jus, and finishing up with chocolate finger, vanilla espuma and pang khon coffee sable”.
“I love the title of today’s event ‘A Spoonful of Love’ illustrates exactly what the foundation is all about. The love of Her Majesty for Her people,” Thanpuying Charungjit says with a smile.
- Products from projects initiated by Her Majesty the Queen and sold under the brand Silpacheep are available at its store in the Or Tor Kor fresh market in Bangkok.
- For more information, check out Facebook.com/SupportFoundationOfHmq.