I think most people either love caviar or hate it. There's really no in between. I love caviar. I always have. Growing up in an Armenian household, caviar was always common at family functions, weddings, Christenings, or even just at home. When I tell people that I grew up eating Beluga caviar, I imagine they must think I'm a rich snob, but nothing could be further from the truth. About 20 years ago, caviar was much more available and my family (and many others) were able to purchase it moderately priced (about $15, I'm told) at Armenian markets around the country. Since Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, it was easy to import this luxurious item cheaply. We would butter our bread, and slather it thickly with salty globules of sturgeon roe. There was no need to skimp, it was so available! Everyone was doing it! It was caviar overload! While my sister is completely grossed out by caviar to this day, I fell in love immediately. I just loved those salty, oily beads popping in my mouth as I inhaled slice after slice of buttered bread topped with this decadent treat. As caviar became more expensive and less available at Armenian markets, it was soon replaced in our households by the super-fishy orange blobs of salmon roe that is such a pathetic replacement for the real thing. I would eat it because it was all I had, but it would never have my heart.
Years passed before my taste buds were tickled by the Heavenly essence of caviar. Last summer, while visiting New York City, I dined at the famed Petrossian restaurant. If you are unaware, Petrossian is highly regarded for their caviars, smoked salmons, foie gras, and so on. I enjoyed their Restaurant Week prix fixe menu with a supplemental fee to choose the 12g tasting of Transmontanus USA Farmed Caviar served with Crème Fraîche atop a Blini. I drooled over that near half ounce of luscious caviar like it was the last spoonful of food on Earth. It didn't last nearly long enough. I gobbled it up within a few moments, and I really wanted more. I couldn't have more. I grabbed a catalog on my way out and flipped through it on my subway ride home. I believe the words "Food Porn" were invented for an occasion such as that. I scolded myself for letting my caviar fantasies get the best of me, as I knew it would be a long time before I would be able to afford another treat.
A couple weeks ago, in my Garde Manger class, we not only had an extensive lecture about caviar but also tried three different domestic caviars including an Osetra, Hackleback, and one more which I can't remember off hand. These were tiny tastes, however, hardly enough to satisfy. I learned a lot about caviar, which I will be happy to share with my readers :) First of all, the word caviar describes salted sturgeon roe. If it's not salted, it ain't caviar. Also, the term malossol means "lightly salted" and usually denotes higher quality caviars. The most famous and highest quality caviars come from the Caspian Sea in Russia and the Black Sea in Iran. There are three sturgeons that are most common for collecting roe. From largest to smallest they are Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga. Beluga is considered to be the finest. They usually grow up to 2000 lbs and reach maturity after 20 years. Imagine having to wait 20 years before you can collect the roe to make into caviar and sell. Why do you think it's so expensive? Beluga sturgeons are becoming endangered in the wild, and thus have made purchasing wild harvested Beluga caviar illegal in the United States. The second largest sturgeon is Ossetra. They usually weigh 400-700 lbs and take 13 years to reach maturity. Finally, Sevruga is the smallest, 80-120 lbs, and takes 7 years to mature. I would love to do a tasting of all three side by side, but until that lottery-winning day comes, I am thrilled to have won a lovely Beluga caviar (my favorite) giveaway from Black Star Gourmet via Natasha at 5 Star Foodie, which will not only quench my caviar lust, but has arrived just in time for my birthday, making it an even more special treat! This is what I got:
- 1 oz Sustainable River Beluga Caviar
- 1 pack of 36 Russian Mini Blini
- 8 oz. jar of Crème Fraîche
- 1 5" Mother of Pearl Spoon
Although this gift set arrived late last week, I decided to wait just a little bit longer to savor this very special treat on a very special day, my birthday (today, teehee). To top it all off, I had a bottle of Moët & Chandon White Star Champagne that I had received as a gift from a former employer about 1 1/2 years ago and was hanging onto for the perfect occasion. What occasion is more perfect than Beluga caviar and a birthday? Nothing I can think of!
Do you remember in the movie Ratatouille, when the incredibly pompous restaurant critic, Anton Ego, tastes the ratatouille that transcends him to his childhood, and his mother's humble but comforting cooking? Well that is exactly how I felt the moment I tasted this bit of Beluga caviar.
While at first muddled by the tasty, but somewhat overwhelming, blinis and creme fraiche, I knew at once that this was the exact thing I ate mounds and mounds of as a child, slathered over bread and butter. I will get plenty of use out of the blinis and creme fraiche in other uses, but I'm strangely a purist, and prefer to eat this caviar (in theory) by the spoonful. I found myself skipping the creme fraiche, putting the salty and sticky caviar directly onto the blinis, and then literally licking it off, following by a "chaser" of blini. Sounds almost like a tequila shot, no? haha. I think it tasted better this way. I know there's about a million "traditional" accompaniments to caviar, but every single one in my opinion is unnecessary and takes away from the complete transcendental orgasm in your mouth when you taste these salty beads of Heaven. It was perfect. This Beluga caviar from Black Star Gourmet is as close to that comforting taste of fishy bulbs popping in my mouth as I recall from my childhood decades ago. A spoonful a day just might change my life, or yours.
Thank you again to Black Star Gourmet and 5 Star Foodie for giving me this nostalgic experience. It made my birthday so lovely, and coupled with that Champagne, I felt like a Queen :) I ate a little more than half today, and look forward to eating more throughout the week!