Caviar: Such a loaded word for such an elegant but straightforward pleasure. Sturgeon eggs as a delicacy dates to the fourth century when the Greeks served them at banquets. Salting them was a Persian invention. But it was the Russian tsars who brought caviar to star status. A delicacy of the Russian court in the days before refrigeration, caviar became synonymous with luxury and celebration. From there, the upper-class penchant for caviar soon found its way to the royal and noble houses of Europe.
But did you know that in the late nineteenth century, caviar was served free in saloons, encouraging customers to drink more? The American caviar business started around then, and by 1910, the sturgeon was nearly extinct in American waters. U.S. production was halted. (Today, all five species of American sturgeon are carefully watched.)
Nowadays, the delicacy is still eaten worldwide, often as an hors d’oeuvre. Parts of America have begun to boom with caviar production yet again, and China is one of the leading suppliers. Beluga from Russia and the Caspian Sea was outlawed in 2005 due to supply issues and the threat of extinction, but you may encounter it while traveling. (Try it! And adopt the local custom of washing it down with a shot of ice cold vodka, if you like.)
Here’s how to enjoy sturgeon roe, plus a snapshot of our finest caviar offerings, with something for every budget. Treat yourself this summer; there’s nothing like a couple spoonfuls of something gorgeous as a stunning start to an evening.
How to Serve It
First things first: Never use a metal spoon to serve your caviar. It may impart a bitter taste to the fish eggs. You’ll see that most of our fine caviar gift sets come with their own mother-of-pearl spoons. That’s traditional, as are bone, wood, glass, tortoiseshell and nonreactive plastic (in a pinch). Bonus: Mother-of-pearl looks gorgeous, too.
Don’t heat it, either. You want to nestle your tin of caviar on ice when serving it, which is why these serving setups are so ideal. Caviar is packaged with a little bit of salt, but it is extremely perishable, so don’t skip this step. Set out the lid to the caviar, too; it’s often beautiful, and it makes for an icebreaker among guests.
Serve simply, with a spoon, with blini and crème fraîche or toast points, possibly with minced chives alongside. You can go more elaborate, such as cooked egg, minced onion, or lemon wedges, but the finer the product, the less accompaniment it needs. (Some taste caviar off the backs of their hands!) And remember not to eat more than a spoonful or two, and to save some for other folks at the party. To do otherwise with such a premium product is considered rude.
What to Drink
Champagne pop to mind? You’re not the only one. “Champagne and caviar” screams “luxury,” and indeed this article suggests Osetra caviar with Champagne (and Sevruga with Viura, salmon roe with Chenin Blanc, and Beluga with Chablis). But purists might shudder, as iced vodka is the beverage of choice in Russia. Even wine columnist Eric Asimov of The New York Times prefers his with vodka. (And has said so emphatically more than once!)
Since 1984, Tsar Nicoulai has sold American-made caviar. Unlike many imported products that use chemicals as preservatives, they use only fine Pacific sea salt. And it’s gorgeous; look at this elegant gift set fit to feed a small party, which features top-quality, sustainably raised caviar that does not mix eggs from different fish. See everything Tsar Nicoulai has to offer.
We’re thrilled to offer Sasanian caviar, which carries both domestic and imported roe. You don’t need to be a diplomat to enjoy the cachet of their Diplomat Set, which includes four premium caviars, a mothe-of-pearl spoon, and a caviar “key.” (The caviar is Polish, and it’s fabulous.) Those with more modest budgets will no doubt enjoy their glistening grey pearls of osetra caviar, which comes just as beautifully packaged.
Known for their truffles as much as their caviar, “Regalis” has become synonymous with “luxury.” Their Large Grain Golden Kaluga caviar is firm and light, smooth and buttery. Their Dutch Golden osetra is just beautiful; a fine specimen of a rare variety. Check them out.
Cali-based Roe Caviar, which showcases premium American white sturgeon, believes caviar should be an everyday delicacy, spooned onto potato chips or eaten by the spoonful. (We love their party-ready kit with Linda’s Latkes and Vermont Creamery Crème Fraîche!) The key to the company’s offerings, which suit every budget, is that they preserve their roe in very fine salt for one month. That makes for buttery, briny undertones and exceptional freshness. These tins come rimmed in gold (gorgeous), and their packaging? The best of American design.