Published on L'Inspired Media by Eve Lin
Once highly prized and enjoyed as an exquisite delicacy, caviar is no longer difficult to find and becoming increasingly more affordable, thanks to mass production. Harvested from the sturgeon family of fish, then salted and cured, these tiny pearls belong in the same luxurious category as other epicurean indulgences like truffles, foie gras, and Champagne. But despite the greater accessibility to this gourmet treat, the central question still remains: How do you pick good caviar? And what’s the ideal way to eat it? Even the most educated palates don’t always understand how to be the best connoisseurs of caviar. With that said, here’s my complete guide on how to shop for and enjoy this delicacy—just in time for the holiday gifting season.
Ask the Right Questions
Look at where the sturgeon is raised and under what conditions. Personally, I’d want mine to be raised in a high-altitude environment with high-quality water and pollution-free air. In this environment, sturgeon develop more slowly; the longer growth cycle gives the fish ample time to develop its complex flavors—and thus produce higher-quality roe!
Then find out when the roe is harvested: Are they harvested right away upon the sturgeon reaching maturity (which can take between six to eight years) or later? A great rule of thumb to remember: The older the sturgeon, the more complex the flavor of the caviar. Then research how the roe is cured. The proportion of salt used and the way salt was massaged into the roe can greatly affect the flavor and texture of caviar. An experienced specialist is essential to a caviar farm as a winemaker is to a winery.
Find Your Type
There are four common species of sturgeon: Oscietra, Baerii, Beluga, and Kaluga. (Don’t worry if you see these names spelled slightly differently everywhere, as the interpretations were created by producers and sellers of caviar in varied parts of the world.) It’s helpful to try an assortment initially and discover your preferences, as each caviar type possesses a truly distinct flavor and texture.
Osetra: Known for its large size and high-growth speed, this Russian sturgeon boasts a nutty, smooth flavor. It’s also prized for its shimmering gold and brown eggs.
Baerii: The Siberian sturgeon produces caviar with a firm texture and complex, nutty taste. These dark brown to black eggs offer concentrated flavor with a clean finish.
Beluga: These extra-large, soft eggs come from the species Huso huso, which is one of the world’s largest freshwater fish. Usually silver or black, its caviar has a rich, creamy flavor with a faint briny finish.
Kaluga: A close cousin of Beluga, these large, golden eggs from the species Huso dauricus are only available in China. They sport a complex, nutty, creamy flavor that’s even more prized (and even higher quality) than Beluga.
Understand the Grading System
Caviar is initially graded by species, but within these categories, it’s further graded based on color, size (larger, firmer beads are less commonplace and more expensive), and flavor (higher-quality caviar has a more complex flavor that isn’t overpowered by salt). But dozens of factors—including how the sturgeon was raised and how the caviar was treated—can impact the final flavor and grading. Grade 1 caviar refers to large, firm eggs, while Grade 2 features slightly less delicate eggs that usually aren’t quite as perfectly formed.
Learn How to Enjoy Caviar
Most caviar aficionados say that it’s best consumed on its own (my preference is a 30-gram serving)—so you can fully appreciate its one-of-a-kind texture and depth of flavor. But the delicacy is also wonderful paired with food and drink. Champagne is my favorite, as the caviar’s rich salt, fat, and oil content pairs perfectly with a glass of dry bubbly. Many people enjoy caviar with vodka as well, which works best when it’s served neat and cold to cleanse your palate for the next bite. If you’re taking a break from the booze, pick any sparkling drink to enjoy with your caviar.
As for food, caviar marries well with appetizer-focused foods like potato chips, blinis, and crème fraîche. But as a breakfast pairing, nothing enhances poached or scrambled eggs more than a dollop of this tasty treat.