Premium caviar: What are the facts?
Caviar has long been associated with the finer things in life. In fact, there is no more sure way to turn your get-together from a fine evening, to a full blown regal affair that the addition of a good premium caviar. But, what is caviar, and how am I to tell the good from the bad you might find yourself asking, as I did before I wrote this column. My interest in caviar happened quite by chance, I was meeting a well-to-do friend for lunch and got word at the last minute that she would be delayed. She is a truly fine friend because she called ahead to the restaurant and had the waiter bring me a plate of their best caviar as I waited. I was enchanted. So much so that I did enough research to present my findings in this article titled premium caviar: what are the facts?
Let’s go over the basics first, what is caviar? Caviar is the roe (eggs) of the sturgeon fish, that lives in and around the Caspian Sea. There are four main varieties: Beluga, Ossetra, Russina and Imperial. Marketed worldwide as one of the rarest, most costly foods, caviar has been prized for many years. But wait, you may ask, is caviar then fish eggs? Yes, caviar is fish eggs. Salt-cured eggs from sturgeon fish, to be more precise. Most caviar production is centered in the Caspian Sea, with the two main producers being Russia and Iran (along with the countries of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan). Sturgeon, however, is not confined to this area. There are at least 50 species in the northern hemisphere and may also be found in North America, China, and France. The United States is one of the main importers of fine caviar, nabbing a whopping twenty perfect of worldwide production in 2019.
But what makes a good caviar, and how can I tell? The finest, most expensive caviars are older, larger eggs that are lighter in color. Lower quality caviar is younger, with a less intensely fishy flavor, and darker in color. For my money, I enjoy Beluga Russian, but in a pinch a little Iranian Beluga will suit me just fine. Most of the world’s caviar is produced in the Caspian Sea, which is bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. There’s been quite an uproar in recent years about Chinese caviar, some say it’s just as fine as anywhere else. I don’t believe it however and the rumors are possibly just a lot of hot air coming from the Chinese exporters who have tried flooding the market with their stuff. No, there’s really nothing quite like Russian Beluga caviar.
But how is caviar made you may find yourself asking, as I did when I began my quest for this knowledge. In fact, the process is kept quite secret, and even a deep dive into this subject produced only hazy answers. One thing is for sure, the Russians know what they are doing, and this grand tradition that has been passed down over the ages has lost none of its potency. Hers what I did find out, almost all caviar is harvested from dead fish. Fishermen on the Caspian wait until the mature female sturgeon (which are at least 10 years old) are ready to migrate upstream and lay their eggs. Once caught, the sturgeon will be transferred to a large boat, where workers slit her open and remove her eggs. The caviar is cleaned to prevent spoilage and then packed up; the rest of the fish is sold for flesh.
The bottom line is that if you have not tried this fantastic traditionally fine appetizer, you simply must do so. No longer for Russian Czars only, this delectable dish can be enjoyed by the hoi polloi as well as anyone willing to step outside their usual eating comfort zone. Try it simply as an appetizer on some good crackers, or go wild and make something like caviar and cucumber bites, or even caviar and smoked salmon canapes. There are so many ways to enjoy the finer things in life with caviar that there really is no excuse not to, so go out and get some premium caviar today!