Caviar. Just the word brings to mind the ultimate in luxury. True caviar is the roe of a sturgeon that has been salted. Its earliest cultivation seems to go back to Persia, likely because different types of sturgeon thrived in the nearby Caspian and Black Seas. The word itself comes from the Persian word for egg, “khayah.” Long enjoyed by the upper classes in Persia, Russia and beyond, caviar has endured as a delicacy for centuries. Beluga sturgeon sometimes take up to 20 years to mature, and produce the most valuable type of caviar. Today the Beluga sturgeon is critically endangered so its caviar is no longer imported. Although production continues, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned its importation in 2005 in order to protect the fish from extinction.
As a result, when we speak of caviar today, we likely refer to roe from another type of sturgeon. One of the most valued is the Siberian, or Ossetra sturgeon, (Acipenser baerii), which is a freshwater fish native to the Siberian river basins. Smaller than the behemoth beluga, this sturgeon weighs from fifty to two hundred pounds. Although populations in the wild are in decline, the Ossetra sturgeon has adapted well to captive-breeding and farm conditions. Most of the sturgeon caviar on the market today comes from an aqua farm.
Down on the Farm
Our Ossetra Malossol Caviar is raised on such an aqua farm, exclusively for D’Artagnan. This is the only caviar exported to the U.S. by these caviar experts, who follow the strictest of animal welfare and environmental protocols. At our aqua farm, the wastewater actually runs cleaner than the same water at entry. The sturgeon benefit greatly from the exceptionally pure water, and the humane and pristine conditions in which they are bred and raised.
The process of harvesting the roe has not changed much over the years. The roe is removed from the belly of a sturgeon and then sieved delicately by hand; salt is added, and hand-packed into lined caviar tins. The term “malossol” is Russian and means “little salt.” Traditionally, before refrigeration, it was difficult to preserve these raw fish eggs and transport them, so plenty of salt was needed. The less salt, the truer the caviar taste; lightly salted caviar was highly prized by the czars and Russian elite.
Eat Your Caviar
Smaller in size than Beluga, Ossetra caviar ranges in color from warm brown to green-gray in color, to dark blue to jet black or even yellow. It is said to have a distinct flavor, and many caviar gourmands prefer the firm bead, texture, and buttery, rich flavor of Ossetra over all others, even the esteemed Beluga.
Our Ossetra caviar has round, plump grains with a unique, lingering nutty flavor and ultra-silky mouth feel. The color ranges from clear grey to golden chestnut to deep brown. It is recommended that you open the vacuum-sealed tin 15 to 20 minutes before tasting; be sure to keep it cold while the caviar is exposed to the air. A bowl of ice chips makes the perfect nest for a tin of these valuable eggs. Scoop the caviar out of the tin carefully, so as not to break the eggs, using a mother of pearl, horn or wooden spoon. Metal spoons should never touch caviar as they can affect the taste.
Caviar is delicious enjoyed simply - atop a round of brioche toast, blini or steamed baby red potato, with or without a dollop of crème fraîche; or in your favorite canapé recipes, like these deviled quail eggs. Once opened, it is best to eat caviar quickly, as it does not have a long shelf life. Paired with champagne, sake, vodka or a dry white wine, it’s hard to imagine that there will be any caviar left over.