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Caviar Buying Guide

Caviar is one of the most well known of gourmet delicacies.  It is traditionally harvested from Caspian Sea sturgeon.  These fish take 15-20 years to mature and produce eggs, which is why caviar is such a delicacy.  However, their slow maturation also means that sturgeon is extremely susceptible to overfishing: in the past 20 years, the Beluga population has declined by 90 per cent.  Luckily, there are several caviar varieties currently being farmed, notably in the United States; these offer good flavour and are environmentally sustainable, which means that the Caspian Sea sturgeon may have a chance to recover.  For more information about caviar alternatives, see CaviarEmptor.org.

Types of Caviar

Beluga 

Beluga is the most expensive type of caviar; it comes from the Beluga sturgeon, found mainly in the Caspian  and Black Seas.  The fish is endangered though, so certain countries have banned the sale of its roe.

Beluga eggs are the largest of the commonly used caviars.  Colour is light blue to black and it tends to be acidic but sweet, yet fairly mild.

Oscietra 

The Oscietra (also spelled Osietra  or Oscietre ) sturgeon is smaller than the Beluga and is found in the same region of the world.

Connoisseurs often prefer this caviar over Beluga.  It has a nutty flavour and a silky texture, almost seeming to melt in your mouth.  The eggs should be of medium size and golden yellow to brown in colour.

Sevruga 

The Sevruga is the smallest of the sturgeons of the Caspian and Black Seas.  Sevruga is more readily available and far less expensive than the other varieties since the fish mature more quickly (at 7 or 8 years).

The eggs are quite small and their colour ranges from green to steel grey.  It is the most intensely flavoured - buttery, salty and rich - and has the crunchiest texture.

Pressed Caviar

Pressed caviars are often made from roe (usually Sevruga or Oscietra) that has been damaged in processing as well as immature or overripe eggs.  Though it is difficult to find outside of Russia, it is said to be worth the hassle; many connoisseurs say that it is their favourite.

The flavour is dense and strong, with a unique consistency - it may be an acquired taste!

Buying Caviar

When investing in caviar, it's best to know what you're buying, especially since overfishing and illegal trade are running rampant in the industry.  Here are some tips to help you out.

  • Packaging: Caviar is usually exported in large tins, which are then repackaged into smaller portions by importers. Beluga is always in blue tins, Osietra in yellow, and Sevruga in red.
  • Freshness: The shelf life of unopened caviar is only 3 to 4 weeks, so only buy as much as you are going to serve and eat. Any leftover caviar will only keep about three days in ideal refrigerated conditions. Be sure to find a vendor that you trust and ask about dates.
  • Where to Go: You will most likely have to go to a high-end market or a speciality shop as caviar is not often found in normal markets. Look for a store that will let you sample before purchasing.
  • Cost: You should expect to pay between 100 and 150 £ for 30 grams of Beluga, 40 to 70 £ for Osietra, and 40 to 65 £ for Sevruga.

Serving Caviar

  • Caviar must be properly chilled before eating.  Make sure yours is served between -3 and 0º.
  • Because metal will transfer flavour and ruin the taste, caviar should be served in a caviar server  or a crystal ,glass  or porcelain  bowl on a bed of crushed ice.
  • Under no circumstances should you use a silver or stainless steel spoon to eat the caviar.  Look for mother-of-pearl , gold, horn ,wood  or glass.
  • If you are a purist, you may consume the caviar a teaspoon at a time.  However, if the taste is too intense for you, try spreading a teaspoon of caviar over some lightly toasted bread (with unsalted butter, if you must), on an unsalted cracker or on a blini (a small Russian wheat pancake).
    • If you prefer to add a garnish, consider a squeeze of lemon, a dollop of crème fraîche , sour cream, crumbled hard-boiled egg or chopped onion.
  • To get the full taste, try bursting the roe at the tip of your tongue.
  • For a truly luxurious experience, complement your caviar with ice-cold vodka ,Champagne  or chilled white wine.
  • Eat the whole tin at once.  If you must store caviar, wrap it in plastic wrap and invert it so the oil is evenly distributed.

Related Products

Mother of Pearl Spoons 

Mother of Pearl Plates 

Caviar Serving Bowls 

Guide to Champagne Glasses

Guide to White Wine