Think about caviar tasting and you're likely to imagine a spoonful of imported Beluga with a glass of French Champagne, or perhaps even Russian vodka and blini. But thanks to demand, know-how, and a focus on homegrown quality, American caviar now rivals some of the best in the world.
Technically speaking, caviar is the salted roe, or eggs, of a fish -- the most popular of which tends to be sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that inhabits in the waters of the Northern Hemisphere, from North American to China. The flavor of caviar—salty, slightly sweet, and earthy—was first enjoyed in Ancient Rome and Greece, and the delicacy gained even more popularity amongst the Russian tsars of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Depending on where it comes from, the species and the processing of the eggs after harvest, caviar can vary in texture, flavor, appearance, and traditionally the three best caviar producing sturgeon are the beluga, osetra and sevruga. In the past, most of these fish were harvested from the wild, but after the collapse of the USSR, the formerly controlled waters of the Caspian and Black seas opened up, which led to massive overfishing of the area. Twenty-six species of sturgeon are now considered endangered, and caviar from the Caspian Sea has been illegal in the U.S. since 2005 due to its status as an endangered species.
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Because of these environmental concerns and the high price of importing foreign produced caviar, American fish hatcheries are getting into the caviar game with farm-raised caviar. Taste-wise, these products are on par with their foreign counterparts, and the homegrown caviar is often more affordable as well. With more and more products on the market, it's likely you can find American caviar to try at your local gourmet store; nearly all of these producers also take orders online.
Chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller are fans of California-based producer Tsar Nicoulai, which raises sustainable white sturgeon for their nutty, creamy Select California Estate Osetra. And Mote Caviar operates the nation's largest aquaculture research facility in Sarasota, Florida, where it raises Siberian sturgeon for its refreshing and silky caviar, which can be found at Whole Foods throughout the U.S.
Occasionally eggs from other fish are also used for caviar, including salmon, whitefish, and paddlefish. Shuckman's Kentucky Spoonfish Caviar comes from a fourth-generation Appalachian fish farmer who is raising Kentucky lake paddlefish for his mild roe. Or pick up the bright orange roe of Sunburst Original Trout Caviar, a family-owned fishery that has been raising freshwater rainbow trout since 1948.
No matter which caviar you choose, storage and temperature is important in keeping the caviar tasting its best. Once the caviar tin is opened, the fish eggs can change in quality quite quickly, developing stronger aromas and becoming softer in texture. Keep the caviar refrigerated, with storage like the Perfect Temp Drawer at 28F until you open it, and then consume within a day.