WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AMERICAN AND IMPORTED CAVIAR?
There are 26 different species of sturgeon found all over the world. Only a handful are harvested for caviar, and they each have their own distinct characteristics. Until recently, imported caviar most likely meant it came from the Caspian Sea, Black Sea or the rivers of Siberia or China, and has always been thought of as more prestigious than Domestic Caviar.
Nowadays, with the emergence of sturgeon aquaculture farms, farmed imported caviar comes from France, Germany, Italy, Uruguay and Israel-to name a few. In the last decade, American Caviar is winning the praise of caviar connoisseurs. At the turn of the 20th Century, America was the leading producer of the world’s caviar. Overfishing led to an indefinite ban on wild caviar production and it was not until the success of white sturgeon aquaculture in the 70’s that quality domestic caviar was once again a possibility.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FISH ROE AND CAVIAR?
All caviar is roe, but not all roe is caviar. Roe refers to any and all unfertilized eggs collected from marine animals. Only roe that comes from a sturgeon can become caviar.
In today’s market, roe from a variety of fish species is salt-cured like caviar and even referred to as caviar (salmon caviar, paddlefish caviar, etc.). However, to be qualified as caviar, the roe not only has to be processed correctly but also has to come from the right fish. If the eggs are not from a sturgeon, the product is salted fish roe, not caviar. That being said, salted fish roe sold in the USA can legally be labeled caviar even though it’s really considered a caviar substitute.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CLASSIC, ROYAL, AND IMPERIAL CAVIAR?
These names are used by caviar producers to further grade their product, mostly based on their standards for the size and color of the caviar pearls.
Caviar is graded on nine factors: size, color, firmness, lucidity, uniformity, separation, fragrance, taste, and maturity. Based off of these factors, the caviar will be sorted into Grade 1 (imperial), Grade 2 (royal) or Grade 3 (classic).
When it comes to determining if the caviar is Grade 1 or Grade 2, specialists use the 9 factors more rigidly. When it comes to Grade 3 caviar egg size and color are typically the only factors assessed. The two grading techniques do not follow the same guidelines or rate the product according to the same factors.
The lowest of the three grades is “Classic”, which is given to caviars that meet the average egg color and bead size for that species. Some companies will say that classic correlates more directly to grade 2 product, but that is not always the case. There can be instances where a product is dubbed "classic" for its darker or smaller eggs, yet can have a better flavor than the higher grades.
“Royal” is the next step up, and will typically be lighter in color or have larger grains than “Classic” caviar. Larger egg sizes signify that the product is from an older sturgeon and lighter egg colors are typically rarer. Due to these factors, the price can increase significantly when moving from classic to royal, and royal to imperial.
The rarest and most expensive grade for a type of caviar is “Imperial”, which is reserved for caviars with the largest eggs and lightest colors. It is important to keep in mind that these grading methods are not an exact science, and what qualifies as a certain grade of caviar for one company might not be the same for another.
HOW IS THE QUALITY OF CAVIAR GRADED? WHAT FACTORS CHANGE THE RATING?
Every collection of roe from an individual fish is unique. The value and quality of the harvested eggs are scored at the time of production by a caviar expert, who judges the roe according to what is an expected norm for that species, based on the grading guidelines. These guidelines rate caviar on a set of factors in which the scorer must answer a series of questions about the product.
Egg size: How do the grains of caviar compare to the typical egg size?
Egg color: Does the product have the usual color, a color that is off, or a certain color that signifies rarer and more mature caviar?
Egg firmness: Are the grains sturdy or soft, and do they have the appropriate texture? Is the roe skin or shell too fragile?
Egg lucidity: Do the eggs have the shiny coating that indicates freshness and proper storage?
Egg uniformity: Is the general appearance of the caviar appropriate? Are all the grains uniform with each other in terms of size, color, lucidity, and firmness?
Egg separation: Are the eggs clearly individual grains or are they soft, wet and seemingly melted together?
Egg Fragrance: Does the product smell okay, or does it have any off-putting and unnatural characteristics to its scent?
Egg taste: Does the caviar have all the usual flavors of that species? Does it taste metallic, sour, bitter, too salty, or have any other flavors that negatively affect the quality?
Egg maturity: Do the eggs not only look but taste like they were harvested from a full-grown fish?
After all these factors are considered, the caviar is grouped into one of two grades.
Grade 1: This grade is reserved for caviar that not only satisfies the norm for the species but ideally combines all the factors stated above. In order to be Grade 1, the eggs must be consistent in a firm yet delicate texture and have large pearls that are intact and unbroken, with fine color, smell, and taste.
Grade 2: normal grain sized, with good color and taste, but might not be as pleasing to the eye or palate as a Grade 1 product. Grade 2 caviar is usually lacking in one of the areas stated above, but not enough for it to be considered a bad product. If the product is scored as below Grade 2 or is damaged, it is not given a rating and is usually separated to make pressed or semi-preserved caviar.
HOW LONG WILL MY CAVIAR LAST?
If unopened and refrigerated, your caviar will usually last about a month depending on the information on the bottom of your caviar. Once opened and exposed to air, it should be eaten within 4 days. To ensure the best shelf life for your caviar, always keep it refrigerated.
WHY CAN’T I USE METAL WHEN SERVING CAVIAR?
You can use metal, just don't use silver! Only silver reacts with the caviar and imparts an off flavor. The sulfur content in the silver oxidizes the caviar. Traditionally, Mother-of-Pearl spoons are used, and we like to think it's more fun that way!
WHAT LIBATIONS GO BEST WITH CAVIAR?
Champagne is always a safe bet to pair with caviar. There are many different styles of champagne and sparkling wine. Typically, we like the Blanc de Blanc style with the creamier caviars, such as Osetra, and Blanc de Noir style pairs best with the more briny caviars, such as Paddlefish. Additionally, smooth vodka pairs well with caviar as well.
HOW CAN I SERVE MY CAVIAR?
When it comes to caviar, the simpler it is served, the better. The traditional onion, lemon and caper garnishes tend to mask the flavor of the caviar. However, if topped on a lightly toasted brioche, French blini or Russian blini with crème fraîche or quality butter it serves a perfect dish. Chopped hard boiled egg and chives are a nice accompaniment as well. For more ideas, check out our recipes.
WHAT IS FOIE GRAS?
Foie gras was discovered by Egyptians over 5,000 years ago. When harvesting livers from migrating geese, they learned that migrating web-footed birds gorged and stored energy in their livers before embarking on their long journeys. This is how foie gras was discovered and passed on to us. Today, the liver of the duck is a delicacy shared by many cultures around the world.
A Cultural Heritage:
The colonization of North America in the late 15th century expanded the reach of foie gras. Colonists brought corn and Muscovy ducks to North America which are two essential tools in foie gras farming methods. At that time the foie gras harvesting was seasonal. Today our farmers domesticate this natural phenomenon, year-long.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF FOIE GRAS?
Foie gras is an excellent source of essential fatty acids and vitamins. Poly-unsaturated fats (also called oleic acid) play an important role in the prevention of heart disease. Foie gras poses no health risks whatsoever. It provides beneficial elements that promote good health.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF FLASH-FREEZING TECHNOLOGY?
Foie gras is loaded with enzymes which break down its cellular structure immediately after harvest. Its shelf life is very short when kept fresh. This is why Rougié has developed the flash-freezing process to stop this enzymatic decay of liver cells.
HOW ARE GRADE A FOIE GRAS GRADED?
Superfrozen Grade A Duck Foie Gras Lobe: This beautiful golden Foie Gras is hand selected according to its texture (firm to semi-firm) and appearance. It is ideal for searing.
WHAT IS THE FOIE GRAS PREPARATION PROCESS?
Whole Foie Gras: recipe made from one or several lobes of Foie Gras, delicately prepared and seasoned. Ex. "Torchon style" is made of whole duck Foie Gras.
Foie Gras Terrine: recipe made from an emulsion of various finely seasoned Foie Gras.
Mousse Royal of Foie Gras: recipe made from an emulsion of various finely seasoned Foie Gras (70%) mixed with binders and seasonings. It can be sliced or used as a base for ganache, espuma, sauces, and stuffings.
Mousse of Foie Gras: recipe made from an emulsion of various finely seasoned Foie Gras (50%) mixed with binders and seasonings. ''Ficelle'' style can be sliced for canapés or melted into a sauce base.
WHAT IS THE FARMING PROCESS ROUGIE USES ON THE FOIE GRAS?
Rougié breeds Moulard ducks that are predisposed to hand-feeding. They produce the highest quality foie gras by domesticating the natural ability of waterfowls to store energy in their livers before embarking on their long journeys. Each step of the growing and hand-feeding process is closely supervised. They're able to offer superior products all year long thanks to their attention to detail and great concern for the caretaking of the ducks. Moderation and fostering a stressless environment are the cornerstones of this process.
What is the hand-feeding duck cycle?
During the first ten weeks, our ducks have permanent access to nutritious feed and water, to favor optimal growth. The next phase, also known as “pre-gavage”, lasts for two weeks and consists of fixed meal times to help develop the elasticity of the crop sac. Finally, the hand-feeding with a 100% corn diet lasting 10 to 12 days, develops the weight and fat content of the liver, a key factor for high-quality foie gras.
Are the animals hand-fed throughout their life?
No, the hand-feeding period only lasts 10 to 12 days from harvest. After 12 weeks of free-range living, they are fully grown and ready to produce. Ducks are fed twice a day, each meal lasting no more than 5 seconds, which comes to a total of 2 minutes in the life of a duck.
THE COLOR, FORM, SMELL & FLAVOR OF TRUFFLES WILL VARY DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF TRUFFLE, AS WELL AS THE ORIGIN & TIME IN THE SEASON.
1. WHAT DOES A WINTER BLACK TRUFFLE TASTE LIKE?
Winter Black Truffle (Tuber melanosporum) flavor is delicate & subtle, yet powerful & rich. Its aroma has a scent similar to freshly turned soil. When consumed, it has a distinct crunch, with an earthy hazelnut flavor, that is topped off with a touch of bitterness.
2. WHAT DOES A BLACK WINTER TRUFFLE LOOK LIKE?
The Truffle's wrinkled, black nugget appearance, is rather inelegant. Although generally the size of a golf ball, they sometimes come as small as a pea or as large as an apple or an orange. The mature truffle is clean, jet-black in color, and has a firm, bumpy surface. When the truffle is cut open, the flesh is black with distinctive white veins. This varies from the black summer truffle (Tuber aestivum) and the autumn truffle (Tuber uncinatum) which have lighter flesh inside.
3. WHAT IS THE LIFE OF A WINTER BLACK TRUFFLE?
The life of a black winter truffle begins in March when the spores germinate. During April, the fungus root colonizes the soil. In May, the fungus reaches sexual maturity. Then in June, the truffles are formed and in October, the Truffle reaches its full maturity. By late November, it is potentially ripe & ready to be unearthed. Finally, the harvest continues through the end of February, so that in March, the cycle can restart its path.
4. HOW ARE YOUR WINTER BLACK TRUFFLES HARVESTED?
Well trained dogs not only unearth a truffle without harming it but can tell by the scent whether a truffle is ready for harvest. Female dogs of generally mixed breeds, will race through the truffle plantation, and come to a stop when the truffle fragrance rises from the soil.
Did you know: Pigs aren't used for Truffle Hunting anymore?
Truffle hunting with pigs was banned in Italy because it was proven that the pigs were not only damaging the Truffle Habitats but were also eating the Truffles!
HOW TO STORE YOUR TRUFFLES?
Wrap your truffles in paper towels, place them in an airtight container, and put them in the fridge. Remember to regularly check & change paper towels that have become humid, in order to keep the truffles fresh.
What if I have excess Truffles?
If they are Black Truffles, they can be frozen and used later. However, white truffles should never be frozen.
When they are ready to use, allow them to defrost until their consistency changes. You'll know they're defrosted when they are sitting in their own flavorful juice.
HOW ARE BLACK TRUFFLES EATEN & WHAT'S A GOOD AMOUNT TO SERVE?
TRUFFLE SERVINGS & SIZING:
1/3 ounce (10 grams) of truffle per person is considered a generous dose. An average black truffle is about the size of a golf ball, and weighs about 1 ounce (30 grams), yielding 20 to 25 thin slices. White truffles are lighter; yielding more slices per ounce.
The peels of one 1 ounce black truffle will yield 1 tablespoon (6 grams) of minced black truffle, which can be used when preparing truffle salt, truffle cream or even truffle butter.
How to Eat Black Truffles:
Place Truffles in a glass jar, with several whole raw eggs and secure the lid tightly. Let the eggs sit for two days. The Truffle permeates the eggshell and infuses the eggs with a pure truffle essence. The eggs can be used in omelets, crepes, risotto, and pasta, or poached atop polenta.
The exterior skin has a firmer texture than the middle of the black truffle, so sometimes they are peeled. Truffle peels are excellent for creating truffle butter, truffle salt, or truffle cream. They add crunch and plenty of flavor.
Black truffles do not need to be cooked. For best results, stir them into a warm dish that is finished cooking or shave them on top of a meal with a truffle shaver. Just the steam of the warm foods is enough to release the divine aroma of the truffles.
WHAT IS TRUFFLE JUICE?
Truffle Juice is pure gold. It's kind of like a truffle broth. It can be used in dishes to boost flavor or completely replace truffles in dishes. Leftover truffle juice can be frozen in a container. Just remember, a little goes a long way!