What is good quality caviar supposed to taste like?
Recently I lived in Sweden and tried their caviar from a tube, and some black caviar from a jar. I disliked both. It felt like I tasting a salt lick, with a very unappetizing fishy taste, and an almost gooey like texture when you bit into it.
I was raised on masago (tiny beaded orange flying fish roe); the ones that you associate with sushi, and they've always had this sweet, mildly savory flavor when they burst in your mouth. I wouldn't describe it as a fishy flavor at all.
Is good, unsalted caviar something similar to what I enjoy?
it should taste richly buttery and like the sea - like when you inhale the smell of the sea. it's not going to be as "crispy" as masago, they eggs sort of melt in your mouth instead. I haven't even had the best caviar, but to me it's a very sensual taste/smell, not unlike the taste/smell of truffles.
For some reason, I have always liked the Japanese specialties of sea urchin and salmon roe better than any caviar I have ever had. The flavors are cleaner, brisker and more marine-like. Perhaps that was your experience with masago.
The ones you tried sound like inferior 'pressed' caviar. Good caviar should be distinct, firm pearls that pop gently in you mouth. They aren't as crisp a pop as other types of roe. They should be salty and fishy in a good way. Sort of like soft tiny bubbles of salty fishy ocean water, clean tasting, bright flavored. 'Pressed' caviar is from poorly handled roe that is then packed firm and the eggs have popped. Yuck!
The sturgeon eggs should pop in your mouth like little ambrosia-filled balloons, and should not be unpleasantly salted. Of course it is a fishy taste, a grand one.
Fish roe is extremely perishable, and so is often preserved through heavy salting and/or pasteurization. But the best caviar is unprocessed and minimally salted. In fact, it's often labeled "malossol," which is Russian for "little salt." If you have the opportunity, try some; it bears no resemblance to the stuff you've described.