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Caviar - what did I just eat?

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So last summer I was in Budapest and bought a couple of small jars of "Russian" caviar at the central market. The price was irresistible. Wanting to save the caviar for an appropriate moment, I kept it refrigerated until the other night (both sons were home) and served it with a bottle of (very) good champagne we never got around to drinking to celebrate my eldest son's university graduation a few years ago.

Well, maybe I'm missing something but I just didn't really get the caviar at all. The eggs were distinct - unbroken - not too tiny and dark grey, not black. But they seemed too firm. They didn't pop in the mouth - they were almost jellied. And there wasn't much flavour, even though we did all the right things down to not using a silver spoon etc. I must say I'm disappointed. Anyone have any explanation for this sad caviar let-down?

I looked up the company online and they swear they're a legit caviar farm and they don't admit to packaging small plastic beads in jars to fool stupid caviar neophytes.

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  1. There are lots of different grades of caviar and who knows what yours was.

    IMO caviar is grossly overrated.

    1. This is just an educated guess but to draw an analogy, if aged prime T-bone is "proper" caviar, you bought last year's low-grade dried-beef-in-a-jar...

      "Good" caviar is lightly salted - nothing else added - and kept just above freezing as it's moved as quickly as possible from the fish's abdomen to the end purchaser's waiting mouth. ;)

      1. I think that the very idea of a "deal" for what is currently so rare and in high demand, is just not going to come out well. What seller - wholesaler, pirate, whatever - would discount something that has such a huge demand and limited supply, other than that it is either spoiled or otherwise not the merchandise it is supposed to be? (Psst... meester, you wanna buy a Rolex?) You got what you paid for.

        Get some real good stuff and have it with some blini or toastpoints. Then you'll have a basis to judge a) whether you like it or not, and b) whether something sold at discount is indeed real good stuff.

        I've ordered from these folks before with good luck - both some Sevruga and US Paddlefish and Sturgeon (the US stuff is definitely getting better all the time).
        http://www.freshcaviar.com/products.a...

        Another great caviar source (also good info) is Russ & Daughters in NYC:
        http://www.russanddaughters.com/order...

        1. Did you say that you bought it last summer and didn't eat it until the other night? This might be the problem. In fact, as already stated, kept just above freezing, good caviar only lasts a few weeks at most.

          1 Reply
          1. re: madgreek

            This stuff was somehow preserved in the jar. There was a best-before date on the bottom of the jar, so I know it was still ok.

            I know, I know - it wasn't the really good stuff but I had hoped it was better than lumpfish. It looked nicer, but didn't taste a whole lot better. Definitely not very salty, though.

            I have had decent caviar before and my memory of it may be clouded by the ambiance of the moment - as are so many of my memories regarding food.

          2. I suspect the irresistible price was your downfall. While a really top grade of caviar may be cheaper in Budapest than in New York, it still ain't gonna be cheap! Caveat emptor.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Caroline1

              I guess. Sigh.

              The paprika was great, though. And I bought lots of it.

              1. re: Nyleve

                Good choice! '-)

            2. Three things don't go together with "irresistible price":

              1) white trufles (i.e., Tuber Magnatum Pico)
              2) caviar (i.e., sturgeon: beluga/ sevruga / osetra)
              3) gold

              Not that you won't get cheated sometimes even if you're paying market values.
              But you will definitely always get cheated when you're not.

              1 Reply
              1. re: RicRios

                Not always true. In my lifetime, I have bought fresh-caught Black Sea beluga caviar for ten dollars a kilo. Yes. You read that right. $10.00 per kilo. But I lived in the right place at the right time, the exchange rate was heavily in my favor, and a most knowledgeable restarauteur-friend was my "purchasing agent." But I could never have walked into a shop in Istanbul and bought it for the same price. It would have been incredibly cheaper than NYC prices because of the exchange rate, but nothing like what I enjoyed over and over again.

                If anybody ever comes up with time travel, I'm there! Earn now, buy then! Caviar is a terrible addiction.

              2. I just got this week's Tastings e-mail from David Rosengarten, and it's a nice brief rundown of the Caviar situation, worldwide. Beluga is still illegal to import to the US, and the weak dollar has really knocked the other Caspian Sea caviar prices into the stratosphere. But the California caviars are really making themselves known - David feels that this is a watershed moment for California caviars, as was 1976 for California wines.

                You can sign up for the emails free and get the latest issue at:
                http://www.davidrosengarten.com/e_sub...

                This email is different from his subscription series - which tend to be in much greater detail. You can more find info at the site.

                Also, he gives permission to forward his emails to anybody - so if you don't want to sign up at his site but want a copy of this email, email me (see my profile), and I will forward it to you.

                6 Replies
                1. re: applehome

                  Any mention of Uruguay?

                  http://www.gourmetfoodstore.com/cavia...

                  1. re: RicRios

                    Might the problem be that this caviar was purchased in the summer and consumed now??? If it was really good caviar it would have expired by now no?

                    1. re: bubbles4me

                      Rosengarten mentions that caviar, properly kept, can last up to 18 months. He was referring to the fact that any Caspian Sea Beluga you would see legally now would have had to be left over from 2005 (the last legal year of import) which would now have to be considered bad. This ban does not apply to Osetra or Sevruga.

                    2. re: RicRios

                      Not in particular, but he mentions the increasing quality of caviar all over the world. His choices in the article are mainly from California, but also from Florida, Israel, and Iran. He sticks to Petrossian in this article.

                      1. re: applehome

                        We sell Petrossian at our store and the shelf life seems rather short..we just got an order in and the best by date is for February 2008....wonder if you can/should freeze it?

                        1. re: bubbles4me

                          I would be afraid freezing would rupture the cell membrances. It isn't caviar if it doesn't pop! '-)

                  2. All other explanations aside, it could be that you just don't like it.

                    DIdn't float your boat, didn't blow your skirt up. Oh well.

                    We often see that people will state that they did or did not like something and others will tell them why they shouldn't or should like or dislike something.

                    Not liking caviar does not necessarily indicate anything wrong with the caviar or the taster.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: FrankJBN

                      That misses the point.

                      How do you know if something is good or not if you're starting with a "discounted" product - or one that is not to be 100% trusted as being the real deal?

                      It's absolutely true that not everyone likes caviar - and that's fine. But if your goal is to try something new to see if you like it, why introduce doubt into the product itself?

                      If I go to Stickybones and have oven-roasted babybacks doused with liquid smoke, and decide that I don't like ribs - wow... look what I'm really missing out on!

                      1. re: FrankJBN

                        I like caviar. At least in theory, I do. I've never had really good caviar but I even sort of like crappy caviar so I figure I'll really like the good stuff when I finally encounter it. I knew the caviar I bought wasn't going to be world-class great. I'm not a total idiot. It's just that I was closer to the source - in Eastern Europe - and at a market filled with tons of wonderful food. So I figured maybe it would beat the cheap lumpfish junk I buy to toss on top of a canape at home. It didn't. I was wondering what, then, was it actually? It was clearly and obviously preserved in some fashion because otherwise it wouldn't have a 1-1/2 year expiry date. I also knew it wasn't beluga or sevruga or ostreta or any of those other things.

                        Whatever. It was an experiment. Nothing much lost. I still have another jar of it left - for another time. Will use it on top of canapes and not bother splurging on the good champagne to go with it. It was a good excuse to drink that bottle, though.

                        Thanks for weighing in, everyone.

                      2. We have made caviar from salmon eggs. In the initial phases of the process the eggs are very hard with the salt that they have taken in. Rinsing removes the salt and makes them more tender. There is a fine point at which more rinsing will make the eggs really tender and subject to breaking with rough handling. Perhaps the packers opted for leaving the eggs at a more robust stage. Was the package marked "malossol" (little salt)?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Gualtier Malde

                          My Russian is a little rusty, so I can't read exactly what the lid of the jar says. Here's a picture, though, for anyone who can read the cyrillic.

                           
                          1. re: Nyleve

                            Yup, malossol it is.

                            1. re: RicRios

                              Actually that's what I thought. But couldn't be sure.

                        2. No guarantee this is the difinitive answer, but the problem may be that the caviar is farm raised. My experience with farm raised sea creatures is to look for wild caught! Well, with the exception of pearls. Can't afford wild-caught pearls! Farm raised sheep and cattle are just fine, but farm raised shrimp or catfish or salmon leave a lot to be desired in my book. I suspect it is probably the same with farm raised caviar. There's something about the same old food in the same old water in the same old pen that takes away the glory of a varied diet in an open sea.