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Caviar Q & A

Q. What’s the difference between Beluga, Osetra, Sevruga, and Malossol caviars?

The roes vary in size, color and flavor…and price. Beluga, Sevruga, and Osetra refer to the species of sturgeon. Beluga, the largest fish (it can weigh up to 2,000 pounds) has the largest eggs, buttery in flavor, soft in texture. They range from pale silver to black in color. Beluga can be twice the price of Osetra. Osetra is a medium-size, generally brownish egg with a nutty flavor and an oilier, silkier texture than Beluga (it is the “melts in your mouth” caviar). Sevruga is the most common species of the three, making it the most affordable. The sturgeon is small and reproduces faster than the others. The eggs are generally gray or greenish and crunchier than the others; it also has the strongest flavor. Malossol is Russian for “little salt,” and refers to a skillful, lighter salting used to preserve the caviar. With today’s refrigeration, even less salt is used by fine caviar producers.

Q. Is Beluga the best caviar?

Beluga is the rarest caviar, which drives the price; it is the costliest caviar and thus it is considered the most prestigious. However, it’s not necessarily the best unless you equate higher price with higher quality. While some people actually do prefer Beluga, it is the most subtle of the three. Some people prefer the nuttier Sevruga or the the more flavorful Osetra. Some like all three equally, as wine aficionados might equally like the distinctly different flavors of Italian or French like: sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet blanc, pinot grigio. As with any food or wine choice, caviar preference is entirely subjective. But because exclusivity breeds snobbery, there are some for whom Beluga is the only caviar; and the typical gray color of Beluga roe is labeled as the highest grade, even though color has no bearing on taste (i.e., the more gray and silvery the roe, the higher the price the roe commands). For the same money as basic Beluga, many caviar connoisseurs would rather have twice as much Osetra or three times as much Sevruga.

Q. I’ve seen the terms “manufactured” and “produced.” Don’t the fish produce the caviar?

There is a simple but crucial manufacturing process. The tissue bearing the roe is removed from the fish and set on a frame (a grohotka) where it is punched to separate the eggs, or grains, from the connecting substance. The grains are washed out, reset on a sieve, and weighed; and the necessary quantity of fine, dry table salt (a percent of weight, no more than 5% for fine caviar—malossol is 3.5%—though prepacked commercial barrel caviar can use up to 10% salt) is added as a preservative. Damaged roe is removed (and used for pressed caviar), and the caviar is sorted and graded. It is packed into tins from .5 to 1.8 kilos in weight for sale to distributors, who repack it into smaller tins and jars for sale to consumers.

Q. How to store Caviar?

A delicacy like caviar requires care. If you want to ensure that your batch stays fresh, you need to learn the basics on how to store caviar. In general, you need to store it in the coldest part of the refrigerator-this means in the back and bottom. Temperatures ranging from -2 to 0 degrees Celsius would work best. Since it contains salt and oils, it will not freeze at this temperature range. If your refrigerator does not get that cold, place an ice pack over the containers. If you are dealing with an unopened jar or tin, know that it was last for around two to four weeks. Pressed caviar will last for two to three months, and pasteurized caviar can sit unrefrigerated on a shelf for about six months to a year.

Therefore, the instructions on how to store caviar that is unopened are different from those on how to store opened tins and cans. Opened caviar needs to be guarded from air and warm temperatures. Leftovers need to cover in plastic wrap. Make sure that you press down with the wrap to release all air. After that, replace the lid and refrigerate. There is more to learning how to store caviar. Opened caviar should be consumed within two to three days. Some people might be tempted to freeze the roe. This is not a good idea whatsoever, as its taste and texture will be greatly affected. If frozen, it needs to be thawed slowly in the refrigerator and only used as garnish. In general, caviar is very perishable and it is always best to buy caviar as needed and eat it soon as possible.

Q. Can caviar be frozen?

Freezing doesn’t destroy the flavor of sturgeon caviar, but it does soften the texture of the delicate eggs. Since much of the experience of caviar is textural—you pay for the “pop”—it should never be frozen. The eggs of whitefish, trout and salmon caviars are sturdier, and can be frozen. Once defrosted, however, do not refreeze the roe.

Q. Is Asetra caviar the same as Osetra?

No, Asetra is a species from the Iran side of the Caspian Sea. It is a complex and sophisticated caviar, from dark to light gray. There is also Golden Asetra from albino sturgeons of the species.

Q. Does color affect the taste of the caviar?

No. Caviar is a natural product, and natural products vary in color, texture and consistency. Among Beluga, Sevruga, and Osetra, for example, colors can range from silver gray to brown to black; although Beluga is generally more gray and Osetra more black. There are rare golden Osetras (coming from albino fish, the roe is actually yellow, and extremely costly due to the rarity). But the color of the roe is an appearance quality only, and does not affect the flavor.

Q. What’s the difference between American sturgeon and Russian sturgeon caviar?

The primary difference is the species. There are 27 species of sturgeon in the world. The three that are fished in Russia and Iran are the Beluga, the Osetr (the caviar from the Osetr is Osetra), and the Sevruga. Just as those three sturgeon caviars taste distinctly different from each other, so will the different species of sturgeon caviar in America taste different from their Caspian Sea counterparts and from each other. (The primary caviar sturgeons in American are the White and Hackleback sturgeons.)

Over-fishing has put all species of sturgeon on the Endangered Species List. Critical shortages in the Caspian have sent the Russian and Iranian caviar markets into a downward spiral, causing Russian caviar to be much harder to find and putting a strain on the Iranian stock. There is currently no initiative in place to resolve the crisis. The difference is that environmentally conscious producers in the United States, dedicated to sustainable harvesting (that which does not deplete the stock of sturgeon), have risen to fill the increasing void. Further, American caviars are a much more affordable option, primarily due to wider availability; but also because of demand based on caviar snobbery, as many traditional buyers will only purchase Caspian caviars.

Q. Will American caviar ever approach Russian and Iranian caviar in flavor and quality?

As mentioned above, American quality is equal to any; it’s the taste that’s slightly different because American sturgeon species are different from Caspian species; and their caviar is as distinctly different as the roes from the Beluga, Osetr and Sevruga sturgeons differ in taste. By analogy, all apples taste similar; but there is no generic species of apple, so a Granny Smith will have a distinctly different taste from a Golden Delicious. If you only want Granny Smith, you will be disappointed by Golden Delicious. If you love apples, you will learn to enjoy both. It is important to note that there are several sturgeon species indigenous to the U.S.; and at the turn of the 19th century the U.S. was one of the largest caviar producing countries in the world until depletion caused an end to commercial fishing.

Q. What’s the difference between farmed caviar and wild caviar?

To answer a complex question briefly, there are three interlaced issues: environmental, quality, and sustainability. In terms of environment, farmed sturgeon swim in clean artesian well water and are fed an all natural feed; whereas wild sturgeon can swim in polluted waters (a problem in the Caspian) and eat food from those waters. In terms of quality, the caviar of fine farmed sturgeon actually rivals that of the wild caviar—i.e., it has a fresh and clean, buttery finish. There are obvious differences in flavor, but this is due to species, environment, and other factors. In terms of sustainability, caviar from farm raised sturgeon does not deplete natural resources (the sturgeon) to produce the caviar. This is critically important, given that all 27 species of sturgeon are on the endangered species list.

Q. How to buy Caviar?

A novice can be quite confused when it comes to the range of fish roe that is out there. Caviar prices can run quite high. That is why it is so important to know how to buy caviar. There are many varieties and, therefore, there are many questions to consider when it comes to buying caviar. It is best to approach the issue prepared. If you know a chef or gourmand, you should definitely ask for advice. For more information refer to print and online magazines that feature gourmet foods. Depending on your budget. Here somehow, we are try to knowledge more about farmed caviar and malossol, and teach you more about the different origins of caviar.

There is nothing like educating yourself. It is the most important step in learning how to buy caviar. Turn to online sources for ease and convenience. You can find our suggested caviar online link. Look at company web sites and see what they can provide. Do your research. If you have questions, do not hesitate to email them to the stores. A reliable online caviar store will have a helpful and knowledgeable customer service staff. Sign up to receive a catalogue or newsletter if that is an option. If you feel that you are ready to buy caviar, make a small purchase at first. Test the service of the company and the quality of the product before making a larger purchase. While it is very easy to buy caviar online, you can choose to go to a retail outlet if there is one close to you. Fine caviar stores allow you to have a sample before making a purchase. This can help you narrow down your choice.

Q. How to serve Caviar?

Many people want to learn how to serve caviar. There is a tradition to it and it is always nice to follow tradition and etiquette when it comes to serving delicacies. Accordingly, refrigerated caviar should sit at room temperature five to ten minutes before serving. Next, place the caviar in the top bowl of a two-piece caviar server. The bottom container should hold shaved ice to keep the roe cool. The good news is that you can easily buy caviar servers online. There are beautiful mother-of-pearl caviar servers that are not easy to find in stores, but available online for people who really want to impress. To serve individually, take a traditional mother of pearl spoon as the utensil to be in contact with caviar. Gold, wood, and horn utensils may also be used. Silver utensils, according to some sources, will affect the taste of the caviar on the palate and should be avoided. This is disputed, however, and some people do not feel like silver affects the taste.

If you want to know how to serve caviar with the accompaniment of other foods, there are quite a few caviar recipes around. The delicacy goes well on blini (is a thin Russian origin pancake) and with potatoes. True connoisseurs, however, prefer it straight without any other flavors. If you are planning to have company over, you will need about one to two ounces per person. If you will be serving the caviar with toast points or crackers, you will need a half to one ounce per person. If you appreciate a good drink and want to know how to serve caviar, you can always follow Russian tradition and go with white vodka. Dry champagne is also a good accompaniment. Serving caviar is not the only point of interest; many people also want to learn how to eat caviar. There is nothing like tradition.

Q. How to eat Caviar?

If you run in circles where caviar servers and names like Petrossian and Romanoff (famous International brands) or Osetra and Beluga are commonplace, then you probably know that learning how to eat caviar is important. If tradition is followed and the hosts of a party really know how to serve caviar, you will come across a two-piece set that contains the delicacy and takes good care of it. This is a caviar server. The bottom piece contains ice to keep the caviar in the top bowl chilled. A mother of pearl spoon is traditionally used to eat caviar, but horn, gold, and wood spoons may also be used.

The delicacy is usually consumed plain, without the addition of spices and herbs. To appreciate the flavor of the delicacy, eat it in very small amounts. If the flavor is too intense for you, spread it on blini or bread. It is also recommended to keep cooking caviar to a minimum, if possible. This will ruin the roe, according to connoisseurs who have a wealth of knowledge on how to eat caviar. It is best to use it as a garnish to dishes or to add it toward the end of preparation in caviar recipes. This is the case if you are using high-quality sturgeon caviar like Beluga, Osetra, or Sevruga that come from the Caspian and Black Seas. Other inexpensive varieties can be more readily used in grilling and baking. The precise instructions on how to eat caviar do not hold true for the alternatives.