Nothing fishy about our caviar, say UK farmers

Rivals overseas are furious, but Exmoor roe is given the thumbs up

If the Exmoor businessman making the only caviar in the UK needed any more proof of its authenticity then he could hardly beat the scandal that is raging about its provenance. After all, caviar and corruption go together like, well, caviar and champagne.

The war of words broke out last year when Exmoor Caviar emerged as the ingénue in the multimillion-pound industry, with allegations, counter-allegations, anonymous letters spooking chefs, private investigators, and calls for trading standards to investigate. European Commission officials have been dragged into the row, which was reignited by the news that the caviar will go on sale at Selfridges, in London this week.

There's just one problem: the fuss, which has cost Exmoor Caviar potential supply contracts, looks to be as cooked-up as the blinis on which caviar traditionally sits. None of the claims against Exmoor Caviar, which is served by some of the best chefs in Britain, including Raymond Blanc and Simon Rogan, have been substantiated.

"You don't know the half of it," said Ken Benning, the firm's founder, at his farm in Exmoor last week. "I've been in front of chefs trying to sell, and people have come in, pulled out documents, accused me of being a liar, that we're committing fraud – all completely slanderous to us."

Exmoor caviar Exmoor caviar Three years ago Mr Benning teamed up with father-and-son farmers Pat and George Noble, who had kept sturgeon, among other species, for their ornamental fish business, which now runs alongside the caviar operation. It's a valuable market: 250g of Exmoor Caviar costs just under £500, although the same amount from Prunier, one of the most prestigious names in the industry, costs £1,650.

A simple question lies at the heart of the issue: what makes caviar British, which is Exmoor Caviar's unique selling point? Mr Benning started the business by importing about 100 female sturgeon from Germany, fish that began life in other countries such as Hungary, Russia and Poland, and now spend their days in Devon freshwater.

"We didn't know how to produce or sex the [ornamental] fish. So we bought some female sturgeon, which we knew had caviar inside them. Other people have trained us how to sex them and how to produce British caviar. We don't call it 'British sturgeon'. But we do call it 'British caviar'. The reason is it doesn't become caviar until it comes here."

But there is a limited market of high-end restaurants and shoppers willing to splash out on the food known as black gold. Hence any newcomer is potentially going to take business from the eight other caviar firms registered in the UK.

A promotion at Nathan Outlaw's restaurant in London's Capital Hotel last year was cancelled at the last minute in what Mr Benning said was an example of a chef being spooked at bogus claims. A spokesman for Mr Outlaw said logistical reasons were behind the cancellation.

Competitors urged Devon trading standards officers to investigate the farm, where the sturgeon that produce caviar are kept in six holding tanks, which contain dozens of almost full-size sturgeon, hundreds between one and two years old and thousands of fingerlings. Cornish salt is added to the eggs which are packaged in London. The trading standards officer "found nothing untoward in the operation".

As Exmoor Caviar is processed at the farm Mr Benning is entitled to call his product "British". A Defra spokesperson confirmed: "If the last substantial change of a product takes place in Britain, then it is acceptable to call the product 'British'."

Dr Graham Wood, head of sector for fishery products at the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office, said: "Caviar produced in the UK, from fish slaughtered in the UK, would carry a UK country of origin code." None of the companies that have made claims against Exmoor Caviar were willing to go on the record.

One rival seemed to be finally convinced that Mr Benning is following the rules. "Well, the law's an ass, in that case," the owner raged.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform