Tag Archives: caviar

What is Caviar?

A little ‘what’ and ‘where’ about caviar, and how you can enjoy it.

 

In the twenty years that I owned my restaurants you wouldn’t believe how many times I was asked, “What is caviar?” It’s a delicacy, to be sure, but it’s also one way to start a conversation during a champagne tasting party (or maybe vodka?).

The correct definition for caviar is that it is the harvested, cured and salted eggs (roe) of wild sturgeon, a white meat fish. If you want to add some history, you would add that the caviar had to be harvested from wild sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. But the fact is, caviar can also come from sturgeon all over the Northern Hemisphere.  Caviar (or technically caviar substitute) can also come from salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish, whitefish and even carp.

As for purely sturgeon caviar, there are three species: Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga, all of which can be found in BOTH fresh and salt water bodies. The fish themselves can be very large, reportedly over 18 feet long, can weigh more than a ton and can live on average 50-60 years! The sturgeon flesh is very edible, usually found in stores canned or frozen, but the big value are the eggs.

Between the three types of sturgeon caviar, the beluga is the rarest, most well-known, definitely the most expensive. Some say that beluga has the best taste. But not all caviar – even beluga – is equal to the label “the best.” Good caviar can be very expensive. You’ll want to pay close attention to the classification found on the label.

The highest quality class of sturgeon caviar will say “Malassol.” This caviar will have less than 5 percent salt content – often as little as 3.5%. For people who don’t mind the salty taste there’s also “Payusnaya” caviar which is made from too-soft, damaged, broken and overly ripe eggs.  It is highly treated, highly salted (can contain 10%) and pressed to a jam-like consistency, and is less expensive but, for some who like its strong, concentrated flavor it can be a favorite.

If you want a little more history to add to your table talk, you might mention that near the end of the 1800s American caviar production really peaked. So much caviar was produced that it was cheap enough for many American bars to serve it to encourage more beer drinking. Think about how bars use peanuts or other salty snacks today. Imagine, caviar at peanut prices.

By 1915, the Atlantic surgeon on the East coast and the white sturgeon on the West were fished out. Fisheries closed down and the sturgeon didn’t return to sport fishing until the 1950s. When over fishing again became a problem, U.S. importation of caviar was briefly banned in 2005. Fishing for Beluga sturgeon was again banned between 2008 to 2011.

Many countries produce caviar with some producing “farmed” caviar: Iran, Canada, Israel, Italy, Spain, the U.S., and England among others. The bans for caviar from wild Beluga sturgeon are now partially lifted and you can purchase it online or in stores.  Just know it’s the most expensive of all the caviars.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, I recommend Petrossian – and if you don’t live in either New York or Los Angeles where they have actual stores you can always order it from their 15-year-old online store.

Want a little more adventure?

How about caviar at your own Champagne and vodka tasting party? Ready?

 

What kind of Champagne Glasses?

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Easy hints and tips for the “right” champagne glass for your party.

It’s a little joke between wine drinkers that the best glass for wine is always the one that you’re holding. No matter if it’s one of those little plastic cups hosts might use to serve at a casual backyard gathering or the elegant stemless glasses that they use at your favorite café bar, when you love wine, and you’re drinking a good one, especially Champagne, it almost doesn’t matter how it is served.  But, even if you’re OK at the moment with the plastic cup in your hand, you always want to know how the wine you want to offer should be served.

For example – what if you want to host a caviar and Champagne tasting party like I did a few days ago. What glasses do you set out for something like that?

First, the good news: there is no shortage of places to go to find them and no shortage on selection. Second, there are three glass types for serving Champagne: flute, coupe, or tulip wine glass. If you can’t find a tulip shaped glass, then a white wine glass will do very well.

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The Fluted Glass

The flute glass (with its tall narrow shape) is the traditional shape for champagne. The shape of the bowl helps encourage a lot of bubbles to rise to the surface and show off the fine effervescence of bubbles. But there’s more to Champagne than just bubbles. I may use fluted glasses for young wines, but not for a good vintage.

The ‘problem’ with the flute is that it tends to short-change the experience a little, especially if you want to drink a good vintage Champagne. The small top of the flute doesn’t allow much air space for the aroma to collect and enhance the flavor. Because there is so little of the surface exposed to air, the flute limits your ability to thoroughly appreciate the aromas and flavors that the winemaker worked so hard to put in your glass.

There’s always the novelty of the coupe glass. They are elegant looking, and some of them are even fantastic works of art. I have a set of very simple crystal ones with tall stems from Iittala. This glass style was popular back in the early 20th century – think flapper girls, glossy hair, and the Charleston.  The coupe was originally designed to showcase a Champagne style that was also popular then – a sweet bubbly dessert wine – which is fine if that’s what you want to do. However, it’s not right for the style of Champagne that is produced today.

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The Coupe Glass

I think that the coupe is a little like the flute glass – there are just some things it doesn’t do well. It can’t capture the beauty of the Champagne, especially the ones that are currently being produced. The wide shallow bowl doesn’t let the bubbles develop as they would in a taller glass, so they come to the large surface quickly, burst and are all gone before you’ve finished your glass.  But the worst problem is the large surface area at the top of the bowl means that too much air meets the wine and both bubbles and aroma (and much of the taste) are lost quickly.

That’s why experts – the connoisseurs of wine – have moved away from the flute glass and novelty coupe for enjoying fine aged sparkling. They want to enjoy what the winemakers put into the wine.  By using the proper glass, you get to showcase the artistry of the wine: the aroma, the palate, and the look. That’s why if I’m serving an excellent aged sparkling wine, I want my guests to enjoy it from either a wide tulip shape or a white wine shaped glass.

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The White Wine Glass (alternative for the Tulip Glass).

The tulip glass gives you just enough length and surface area so that bubbles can burst at the same time. When it is filled to no higher than two-thirds full – you’ll have plenty of room to capture those aromas at the top of the glass. The wider bowl allows more room for the aeration of the wine. The flavors develop better when the narrower rim captures and holds those aromas in the glass for you to enjoy.  If you can’t find the tulip shape, then a white wine glass will suffice. Tulip glasses are similar enough in shape to a white wine glass, only wider at the bowl and slightly narrower at the top.

Last, but not least, I have a few suggestions for your party. There are three brands of Champagne/sparkling wine that I love and will always recommend:  Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame (a bold style for a strong statement), Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (for a big impression on your guests) and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico (my go-to sparkling for those informal gatherings).

For glasses, I recommend three – the Baccarat Crystal flute, the Iittala Crystal coupe, or a simple white wine glass from Crate and Barrel.

Enjoy!