There are many reference works on fine wines, great architecture, old master paintings and practically every other aspect of gracious living; but try to find a definitive work on caviar; even in this day and age you may be stuck.
Caviar is roe produced from the fish genus Acipenseridae, commonly known as sturgeon. This roe is one of the most expensive taste sensations in the world. I hope that with my research, I can educate you with The Culture Clique’s own Caviar almanac and essential shopping bible.
In recent years there has been a massive decline in the sturgeon population, which in 2006-7 led to the suspension in International trade of Caviar sourced from The Caspian region. However, on our own Spanish doorstep I discovered that Caviar is now being cultivated at Caviar de Riofrio in the lakes above Grenada. My research has been co-ordinated with the assistance of Karen Ahtiainen, the Finnish based Export Manager.
Caviar de Riofrio was formed in 1956; originally established as a traditional aquaculture farm in Navarra. The farm and company still remain, but in 2011 was bought by a new owner, Russian Sergei Kapanen from Finland.
They now have 3 farms in Rio Frio and remain the largest and most significant Caviar farming companies in Europe, and the first caviar farm obtaining organic certification for both its fish and products. With the new management, they have now opened up new markets for Rio Frio, in Asia and the European region.
The processes and recipes employed at Caviar de Riofrio are carefully developed in their laboratories throughout spring and autumn.
Their products include the organic natural which was the world’s first certified organic caviar, traditional and classic Russian style caviar, Alma, which is 100% dried caviar and is popular amongst many Chefs in 5 star restaurants and hotels, Essencia which is 10% dried caviar and 90% salt and Payusnaya which is the original essence of Russian caviar.
In Spain, Caviar de Riofrio can deliver refrigerated caviar ‘door to door/ in less than 24hours. They can also send it via air around the world.
Caviar de Riofrio concentrate heavily on their reputation for producing the finest organic caviar, so if by chance they are visited unexpectedly by the culinary ‘Gods’, they can feel safe in the fact that their Caviar always reaches the perfect standard. One of the first was Gordon Ramsay.
Gordon, like other caviar connoisseurs, knows that wild caviar is under serious threat. Therefore, he was looking for an alternative source and found it, here in Spain. In his opinion the farmed organic caviar at Caviar de Riofrio has given wild caviar a run for its money.
Now onto the quintessential guide itself. Although there are 26 types of sturgeon, there are three quintessential types of Caspian Caviar. The following are the most famous.
Beluga caviar comes from the Huso Huso sturgeon. This great fish is the largest of the Acipenseidae family by far, and an average adult weight would be around 2600 lbs. (1200 kilos) and reaching a length of around 13ft. (4 meters). Indeed records lengths have been recorded up to 25ft. The record weight of the caviar alone taken from just one fish is 660lbs. (300 kilos).
Beluga has the largest eggs which range in colour from dark slate to a pearly grey. The French often refer to Beluga on a menu as ‘Les Perles de Beliga’. In general, the larger the eggs and the lighter the colour; the more expensive Beluga is. The ultimate in caviar is Imperial Gold. This great rarity comes from certain fish which are true to the species but have a genetic colouring flaw; you could call them ‘Albino Beluga’.
The name Oscietra corresponds to the species Acipenser gueldenstaedtii, which is much smaller than Beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), and has a firmer texture. There is another type of sturgeon which can produce Oscietra caviar, Siberian (Acipenser Baerii), which is farmed all over the world because it can adapt to a wider range of habitats. These sturgeon can reach a length of about 6’6 (2 meters) with a weight between 50-400lbs. Colours range from greyish black, brown and grey to a pale yellow. If the Oscietre caviar is too light in colour indeed almost colourless, it means that it is not mature. However, the golden colour Oscietra caviar is highly prized and is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Imperial Gold. The eggs are smaller than Beluga and have a slightly harder shell.
This is harvested from the Sevruga sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus) native to the Caspian Sea, and may be distinguished from its more expensive cousins by the size of the eggs, which are generally smaller. The Sevruga is the baby of the family and seldom grows over 2 metres. It is more slender than its cousins and yields only between four to twelve pounds of caviar per fish. Although currently the least expensive for my taste Sevruga knocks all the other into a cocked hat.
So now you have the archetypal guide at your fingertips and have hopefully now purchased your caviar from Caviar de Riofrio, there is another question. What to drink with it?
The most traditional liquid nectar to accompany caviar is of course ice-chilled Russian vodka. It is also marvellous with champagne – Dom Perignon preferably.
Capturing this market, Caviar de Riofrio have now developed a new product for drinks called Dados de Caviar. Caviar dice is good for hard liquor like vodka and martini.
The correct manners in which to serve this mouth-watering delicacy are as follows; chopped chives or onions and with a chopped hard boiled egg.
It should never be eaten with a fork but with a spoon preferably made from the mother of pearl Oyster shell.
According to the Russians and caviar Connoisseurs, the perfect way to eat caviar is to put it at the back of your hand at the area between your thumb and forefinger, purpose is your hand will allow the right amount of heat to unleash the quality and taste of the caviar. By putting it on your hand, you can also feel the temperature; verify its shape, quality and colour before putting it in your mouth
With this short Guide it has certainly given me an insight into this magnificent fish, and I do hope we have armed our readers with enough information to order caviar with confidence in a restaurant or shop and to warn people of some of the pitfalls.
Caviar de Riofrio, Camino de la Piscifactoria 2, Rio Frio, Granada. TEL: +34 958 322 621 FAX: +34 958 321 114 or log onto: www.caviarderiofrio.com. They also offer tourist tours. Please see this in our next edition.