Caviar for Connoisseurs

By Raymond J G Wells

Caviar-often described as “Black Gold” and regarded by many epicurean experts as the world’s finest culinary delicacy is today mostly obtained from the Caspian Sea. This sea is where the bulk of the world’s sturgeon are to be found and Caviar is a Persian word meaning “bearing eggs.” This luxury product, devoured by the rich and famous, is the eggs of sturgeon.

Traditionally caviar has been gotten from three main species. These are the Beluga, Oscieta and Sevruga, all of which are found in the Caspian Sea. The two big producers are Iran and Russia. Iranian caviar enjoys a premium over the Russian variety because the Russians add more salt to preserve the eggs.

Historically Italy was the main western supplier and the early records, which had references to caviar were from medieval Farrara. It seems Italian Jews fished for sturgeon in the River Po to collect the prized eggs. In Great Britain during the Middle Ages, the bizarre looking sturgeon was held in such high esteem that it was proclaimed a royal fish. What that meant was that any sturgeon caught in British territorial waters became the property of the crown.

Sturgeon reputedly can live for a hundred years or more. This means that their pre-puberty stage can last anywhere between eight and twenty years, depending on the genus.

Epicureans generally reckon that the best companions to caviar are the finest dry Champagnes and “Stolichnaya” crystal frozen vodka. Caviar is also often served on ice or on its own with a selection of items like fresh blinis, croutons, butter, chopped onions, egg, peppers and capers.

The 21st century is witnessing caviar from the good ole US of A making a long overdue comeback. In the latter part of the 19th century, the US was actually the world’s largest producer of caviar. At that time caviar was so plentiful it  was not at all unusual for bars to give it away with beer; at 10 US cents a pound it was a darn sight cheaper than salted peanuts. That wonderful situation all changed as gradually water pollution helped kill off the sensitive sturgeon.

Now there is sturgeon being reared in the rivers of the Ozarks and the Pacific North West. American produced caviar sells at between US$4 to US$16 per ounce. Expensive though that may seem its a real bargain compared to the Iranian or Russian varieties. And to let you into a secret – to most people it seems it doesn’t appear to taste any different to the hugely more expensive caviar from the Caspian.

Copyright 2000 Raymond Wells

Raymond Wells is a British born economist and writer currently living and working in Malaysia. He has numerous writing credits in both print and electronic magazines. Among the former are articles in Day and Night, Trail finder, Southern Scribe, Writer’s Forum, International Living, Changi, Far East Traveler and Home and Country. He has written for e-zines such as Tempo, Worldwide Freelance Writer, Zinos, Writers Mirror, BootsnAllcom and now for the-vu.

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