By: JEN KARETNICK
Your in-depth guide to the crown jewel of epicurean delights.
For an average caviar connoisseur, enjoying the roe is the easy part. Ordering it is often times a challenge. So much to consider. What are the differences between Sevruga, Osetra, and Beluga? Where the caviar is sourced from? Does the price determine quality? With the help of Caviar Russe’s director of operations, Edward Panchernikov, we get to the bottom of this piscatorial puzzle.
First thing’s first. There’s a difference between roe and caviar. You can refer to the eggs of any fish or mollusk, even snails, as “caviar” colloquially. But caviar generally refers to the eggs from sturgeon species as opposed to those from salmon, flying fish, or shad, which should be called roe. “Beluga produces large and grey caviar,” explains Panchernikov. “Osetra produces medium to large eggs with light hues and a distinctly buttery flavor. And Sevruga produces small and fragile eggs, but with an amazing creamy, briny flavor.” These best-known types come from the Caspian Sea, which borders several countries including Russia and Iran. But there are almost three dozen kinds of sturgeon found around the world, from China to the U.S. “Other, lesser-known species of sturgeon produce great caviar as well, such as the Siberian and Pacific sturgeons,” adds Panchernikov.
Back in 2005, when the largest sturgeon became drastically overfished and put at risk of extinction, the U.S. banned import of Caspian Beluga. The trade foresaw this unfortunate development and established aquaculture farms in Europe, Australia, and even here in Florida. China moved into the gap and became a major caviar player, exporting its river sturgeon variety called Kaluga, often repackaged under other brand names. “If the country of origin isn’t on the label,”
Panchernikov says, “the producer is likely China.” The water the sturgeon swim in and the food they consume affect the quality of the eggs they produce. In the case of Caviar Russe, the purveyor sources its caviar only from “an aquaculture farm in Germany that focuses on sustainable sturgeon farming and implementing practices that optimize the quality of the caviar they produce,” Panchernikov explains.
It’s tempting to say Beluga, the most expensive of all varieties, is the best. One of the reasons for its steep price tag is the fact that the sturgeon takes up to18 years to reach maturity, resulting in hefty upkeep costs. In the end, the costliest caviar may not necessarily be your favorite. It really comes down to your palate. When ordering ask questions and be frank about your budget. Caviar mongers don’t want to put you off with snooty replies and bad advice. Instead, they are looking to hook you for a lifetime of gourmand pursuits.
Pairing caviar with Champagne is a classic. After all, luxury deserves more luxury. Try a Ruinart Blanc de Blanc for citrus and floral notes plus persistent, delicate effervescence that will clean the palate of caviar’s buttery and briny flavors.
Chilled vodka, crisp and clean as new linen, is another traditional match. You can make this pairing more interesting by sipping Belvedere Lemon & Basil. The citrus and herbal flavors are forthright yet subtle without compromising the subsequent bite of caviar.
Think out of the tin with sake. Smooth and dry, with a complexity of flavors that range from sweet to salty, ice-cold sake complements a wealth of delicacies from the sea, including caviar.