King salmon (Chinook) were introduced into local New Zealand rivers from the Sacramento River 100 years ago. The fish farmed today are direct descendants of this original North American stock.
Mount Cook freshwater salmon are raised in the swift, cold currents of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. The water is fresh and highly oxygenated; with a constantly flowing sanctuary of 2,000,000 gallons of flowing water per minute, the salmon are able to thrive with 21 kilometers of swimming per day. This ensures the fish are healthy and lean. The salmon are cultured in this pure environment, with no growth hormones, vaccines, pesticides or antibiotics. Nature takes the lead in giving the salmon space to grow and thrive, with minimal human intervention.
The mystery of what makes Mt Cook fish so special
It is indisputable that Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon looks and tastes different from any other farmed salmon in the world. It is comparable only to wild King Salmon. Lay it next to any other salmon and instantly it is visibly identifiable for its thin inter-muscular fat lines. The taste is unlike any other salmon. It can be clearly selected in a blind taste test. It is sweet on the palette with an uncluttered taste and has virtually no fish oil aftertaste prevalent in other farmed salmon.
The texture is also a clear give away; the firmer more muscular texture gives a pleasant ‘al dente’ feel in the mouth. It has often been noted that when cooking, its low and pleasant odor makes it distinguishable as well. While no one knows for sure, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that there are three significant environmental factors unique to the farm that combine to give the salmon its rare and unique qualities.
Pure Glacial water from the southern alps of New Zealand
New Zealand water is so pure, you can drink it both above and below the farm, and it is equal to many of the high-end bottled mineral waters. Fed from snow and glaciers it is cold year round; 43°F (6°C) in winter to a maximum of 61°F (16°C) degrees in summer. The natural glacial ‘till’ (caused through suspended minerals in the water) protects the fish from excessive sun exposure in the height of summer, as the fish dive deeper to avoid the sun’s penetrating rays.
The color of the water feeding the farm is world famous and features in many post cards. Depending on recent snow or natural glacier melt, the alpine lakes’ water color can change from a translucent blue/green to an opaque turquoise. Interestingly the flesh of the salmon can take on both of these translucent and opaque characteristics. Over the years the staff of Mt Cook have come to believe that when there are more fish with this rare opaqueness in the water, they are about to have a great harvest.
Swift Flowing Currents
Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon is situated in a man-made hydro canal running between two alpine lakes, Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. These two lakes are recognized as two of New Zealand’s most outstanding natural landscapes. The hydro canal is the perfect environment for salmon farming. Year round the average water flow is 130 cumecs (over 2 million gallons per minute, or 7.5 million litres), making it the highest water flow through any salmon farm in the world. It also means the fish swim all day against swift 5.6mph (3.5m/sec) currents, making them physically fitter than any other farmed fish in the world.
The high water flow, combined with the purity of water, means we have never had a disease related mortality at the farm. Not a single fish. It also means we don’t have to mess with nature. We are eco-sustainable and GMO free and don’t use antibiotics. Mt Cook fish are naturally parasite free and do not have the algae taint present in other fresh water farmed species. Having lived only in pure glacial water all their lives, the salmon are free of chemicals, mercury, and other heavy metals.
At 1969 feet (600m) above sea level, Mt. Cook Alpine Salmon is the world’s highest salmon farm. There is nothing but wilderness between the farm and the mountains. High in the mountains is also where elite athletes train to develop higher red blood cell counts. This may be part of the mystery as to why the fish have a different taste and texture; it may also be a factor in why Mt Cook fish occasionally have the bleeding characteristics similar to King Salmon in the wild.