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 recipe