I actually used to hate caviar, really, so I get it. I was at a party and my host made me try it. “How ’bout that caviar huh?!” I grinned sheepishly at him and said “mmmm” as I fought back my gag reflex, tucking it into my cheek and pretending to chew. Later I shared it surreptitiously with his disposal. Little did I know my wealthy host was a cheapskate who found a “great deal” on a kilo of caviar that current me would not feed to a dog. It took 30 years for me to try it again.
Unfortunately when people try something new, they don’t want to fully commit to something they are not sure they will like. They buy a cheap caviar in case they don’t like it – and then they don’t like it.
Common complaints they have:
“It tastes mushy” – This is because it was frozen at some point in processing or transport – the ice crystals pop all the eggs and ruin the texture or “mouth feel” which is a big part of the experience. It’s a lot more expensive to transport and stock fresh, never frozen caviar, and only the best caviar companies really do this.
“It tastes fishy” – Long before the FDA confiscates it from the shelf, caviar has lost its bloom and tastes “off”. It needs to be stored at 30 degrees fahrenheit. At that temperature, unopened caviar can last 4 to 6 weeks, in your fridge it is 2 weeks. After opening, only a day or 2.
“Too salty” – Over-brining is “cheap insurance” against food safety issues if you don’t have complete control over production and transport. Better caviar is usually “Mallosol” (Russian word for “little salt”). Great caviar doesn’t have to fight off germs with extra salt.
“The flavor is too strong” – OK, even with the best caviar companies, you are not supposed to eat “the orange stuff” on it’s own – eat it with food or with crème fraîche. The black stuff is more subtle, and it’s for eating by itself, or with just a bit of toast or a blini.
Black market illegal caviar is more likely to suffer from these deficiencies. A smuggler is already breaking the law and doesn’t have qualms about second rate processing or transport, or about misrepresenting his product.
“How do I know if it’s legal caviar?”
Here’s a hint – if it is wild Beluga caviar it is guaranteed to be illegal. In an effort to save the fish, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has banned export of this caviar for the next few years to allow recovery.
So after many years as a caviar hater, I tried some of the best caviar in the world and now I am hooked. If you want to know if you like something, invest in “the real deal” – at least you will know if you really don’t like it or if you bought something a caviar lover wouldn’t eat on his worst day.