CAVIAR. I knew very little about it. Just the common knowledge that it is eaten daily by Russians, Beluga whale is the best type, the price rivals gold by weight, and it only looks like blackberries mixed up.
It turns out, all of that is wrong.
Let’s start with some back-story. I occasionally actually look at the “limited coupon” website emails I get. Come on, we all signed up for one or two to get cheap movie tickets at some point, and have been too lazy to block the sender. One that was sent was a “buy one get one free” coupon for champagne and caviar tasting. Seemed like a good deal, it was local, and Fiance and I are trying to become more epicurian and gastronomically informed/cultured. So we went today!
The Seattle Caviar Company has been in operation for over 20 years. It has been featured in a wide variety of magazines, provides for some of the most renowned restaurants and hotels, and also sells other delicacies such as truffles (apparently NOT a fungus, a tuber!) and foie gras (fat duck liver paste; pronounced “faw-gwa” for those of us who aren’t Francophones). Somehow they snagged the memorable URL of www.Caviar.com. It is located in the interesting area between the University of Washington campus and downtown Seattle.
First, Russians are not the sole providers and consumers of caviar. Iran is the largest harvester and distributor of caviar in the world (Russia is #2, surprisingly). Russians may eat it more often than many other western countries, but usually just for holidays or other festivities. I suppose it is as ignorant as believing that the Japanese eat sushi everyday, French drink champagne exclusively, or that Americans eat McDonald’s for breakfast-lunch-and-dinner.
Beluga caviar doesn’t come from beluga whales. Yes, this disappointed me as well. I know they aren’t a fish, but I figured there was a weird ovary harvest thing…. I never really thought about it. Anyways… beluga caviar from the beluga sturgeon (Huso huso). Most people know the name because it is used as a prop in movies to show how rich Character A is. It is supposed to be delicious, but due to conservation concerns it is difficult to legitimately get outside of Russia (embargoes, limited allotments, black-markets, and mislabeling). Also, with such a wide variety of flavors a person could prefer a cheaper fish-egg (I happen to prefer Subaru to Ferrari).
Though the rarest caviar (harvested from 100 year old beluga sturgeon) can catch a per ounce price rivaling that of an entry level car, there are many varieties that allow for a wider consumption. Lower-priced caviar can be in the $10/oz range, but a wide selection is affordable below $50/oz. You don’t need to be “the one percent” to experience this tasty treat!
While the best known caviar is generally thought to look like tiny black pearls, the texture, size, color, and flavor can be across the board. I experienced a wide combination: dense and chewable, others instantly popping upon contact with your tongue; tiny perfect spheres the size of blackberry rounds, pea-sized orbs; black as space, orange as the burning sun; salty and brine-flavored, wonderful butter and olive oil flavors. This is because caviar is any fishes roe (the eggs), at least in the US. Europe has different definitions, limiting it to the traditional Baltic sturgeon eggs. Ever had sushi with little bright orange “fish bait” on top? That is flying fish roe. Technically a cheap caviar! Even the water and climate differences between the same species will extremely alter the flavor.
I was quite pleased with my caviar experience. Sitting down at Seattle Caviar Company’s serving bar, drinking champagne, scooping fish eggs from a tin with a mother of pearl spoon (ok, they used little ice-cream tasters, as they couldn’t let us re-use the same spoon on every type), and talking with the knowledgeable and entertaining staff. If you’ve never had caviar I suggest you order some online, or stop buy the shop for a tasting and learning experience!
Now, normally we try to stay away from very location specific reviews. However, an exception is being made because the product is widely sold via the web. So you can get this!
Fact checking via http://en.wikipedia.org/, www.caviar.com, and living in a very sea-food centric area.