EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GENUINE CAVIAR
Caviar is often referred to as “the black gold”, due to its high nutritional, gourmet and market value. Since ancient times, caviar has been considered a gastronomic extravagance in gourmet cuisine environments, and no wonder, as sturgeon fish species are the same age as dinosaurs and saber-toothed cats. Sturgeons are unique fish species: they managed to adapt to environmental changes throughout 250 million years. The Sturgeon roe itself concentrates all the necessary nutrients, naturally and perfectly balanced for the survival of their next generation. At all times caviar was a special food on royal tables and aristocratic banquets and still remains the symbol of taste and luxury; it has been emphasizing the status of the royals, celebrities and business-tycoons.
Genuine caviar is a luxury delicacy, consisting of processed, salted, non-fertilized sturgeon fish roe.
Traditionally, the term ‘caviar’ is only used for sturgeon roe from the 27 wild sturgeon species living only the Northern Hemisphere, mainly in the Black and Caspian Seas (Beluga, Ossetra, Sterlet and Sevruga caviars). These caviar varieties, according to their quality (based on flavour, size, consistency and colour) can reach astronomical prices.
The highest quality caviar comes from eggs harvested as the female sturgeon fish prepare to spawn. In the wild, sturgeon are caught as they move from saltwater to fresh tributaries to lay their eggs.
So, why Sturgeon is so highly prized? In short, because it is a unique Functional Food designed by Mother Nature and presented by natural capsules consisting practically of only natural nutrients, vitamins and amino acids perfectly balanced for human consumption. It is practically unrivalled in its nutritional value and multiple benefits for human health.
- The caviar produced by each of the Sturgeon species differs. Beluga sturgeon has traditionally been considered most exquisite. Beluga caviar is traditionally produced from wild sturgeon fish aged between 60-100 years old. Beluga caviar eggs are up to 3.5mm in size, and of unsurpassed taste with a distinctive hazelnut aftertaste. However, such caviar no longer exists on the market.
- The next in ranking is Ossetra Sturgeon eggs, slightly smaller than Beluga caviar: 0 – 2.5mm which can be black, brown or grey. The lighter the colour, the higher the quality. Ossetra Sturgeon caviar has a rich, nutty flavour. This is the best caviar the money can buy at present.
- Sevruga caviar has much smaller eggs (less 1.0mm) than Beluga or Ossetra, but is more abundant. Sevruga ranges from light gray to black and offers a buttery taste. Sterlet caviar is slightly smaller than Sevruga, but very similar, appears light to dark grey, and is also known for its intense flavour. Both Sevruga and Sterlet caviars have a creamy, smooth, buttery texture. These two are “the cheap” caviar varieties, if one could possibly utilize the term “cheap” as far as Sturgeon caviar is concerned.
END OF WILD STURGEON CAVIAR ERA: By the end of 20th century wild Sturgeon overfishing resulted in United Nations’ total ban of wild Sturgeon fishing. Starting from 2007 the ‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’ (CITES) is the cornerstone legislation regulating the international caviar market. Since then the caviar lovers had to forget about the wild Sturgeon caviar. However, this international ban has triggered establishment of Sturgeon aquafarming; such farmed Sturgeon is the only legal source of nowadays caviar.
However, not every aquafarm produces caviar which can substitute the forbidden wild caviar. Interestingly enough, the first Sturgeon aquafarms appeared in those countries which have never had wild Sturgeons in their regions (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Uruguay), although they were quick to recognize the potential benefits of Sturgeon aquafarms. These countries were followed by Italy, Spain, Germany, France, USA, Canada, Armenia, Moldova, etc. And, of course, it is hardly a surprise that volume-wise China is currently an absolute leader (60% of the world’s market), although in China’s case, as usually, the quantity by far takes over the quality.
By the way, it is hardly a surprise that Australia has no Sturgeon aquafarms, however, it is very strange that New Zealand has not yet joined the Caviar Club. My well-researched opinion is that New Zealand has perfect conditions for Sturgeon aquafarming, and the great potential for the production of best quality caviar. If somebody is interested in investing into NZ Sturgeon aquafarming, I would be prepared to assist in establishing such new business.
NZ CAVIAR VODKA: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MADE POSSIBLE BY PUHOI ORGANIC DISTILLERY. In 2019 the highly reputable and prestigious ‘Lonely Planet’ publication defined Puhoi Organic Distillery as “the world’s top boutique micro-distillery”. Since then I decided not to rest on these laurels and trailblaze in the new direction, and combined fine spirits and most expensive foods into the new concept. The most expensive foods, as everybody knows is Caviar and Black Truffles. For me the creation of the new sensational Black Truffles Brandy presented no difficulty, because New Zealand produces some of the world’s best Black Truffles, while Puhoi Organic Distillery has everything it takes to create the finest spirit based on these exotic gourmet fungi, which is now being aged in miniature oak barrels.
Caviar Vodka, on the other hand, seemed to be a “Mission Impossible”, not because I did not know how to craft it, but because the cornerstone ingredient, specifically the fresh preservative-free caviar, could not be found in New Zealand. At the same time, a reasonable question was, why on earth make Caviar Vodka if this vodka’s pairing food, being the top quality caviar, does not exist in New Zealand?
Therefore, I started looking for the best possible Sturgeon caviar supplier overseas for Puhoi Organic Distillery’s Caviar Vodka project. I was glad to find out that my native Ukraine already boasts several aquafarms producing caviar. So, choosing the best one was not a difficult task as at the same time I was appointed the Honorary Consul of Ukraine in New Zealand.
It is worth mentioning that the diplomatic banquets with high quality caviar always was a trademark for the countries where the wild Sturgeon lived (e.g. Iran, and USSR), and thus the “Caviar diplomacy” was always the main incentive for those who were invited to attend such diplomatic receptions. And so the puzzle was completed: the Honorary Consul of Ukraine needed the best Ukrainian caviar for his diplomatic receptions, and Puhoi Organic Distillery needed the same quality caviar for the Caviar Vodka project.
To cut a long story short, I already signed an exclusive contract with the Ukraine’s top quality caviar aquafarm, and thus New Zealand joined the club of countries where the best fresh caviar can be accessed. Moreover, New Zealand has also become the only country with the unique Caviar Vodka matching the best fresh caviar!
HOW I BECAME A CAVIAR EXPERT. I was lucky to be born on the shore of the Black Sea, in the famous Odessa City. This is the region where four major European rivers (Danube, Dnieper, Dniester and Southern Bug) flow into the sea. Since the dinosaur times, Sturgeon fish lived in the Black Sea, and went to spawn into these rivers in spring. Before the total ban in 2007 on wild Sturgeon fishing, this region was a bonanza for the caviar lovers. Between my day of my birth and my migration to NZ in 2002 I ate an indecently enormous amount of wild Sturgeon caviar and became an expert in judging the caviar quality.
During my youth times the local fishermen still caught Beluga (reaching up to 500kg) and two-meters long Ossetra, then fresh-salted on the spot the caught fish’s roe immediately turning it into fresh caviar. After they took it to the local farmers’ markets, where it was possible to purchase the best quality caviar, however, but only under the condition that you knew how to tell the difference between good and poor quality caviar. For those who could not appreciate the caviar quality and freshness, there was always a huge risk to get food poisoning from this gourmet, but fragile and highly perishable product. The lethal risk of being poisoned is the best motivation to become a caviar expert fast!
CAVIAR QUALITY. As a long-time caviar expert, I can assure you that the world caviar market has very different caviar on offer: from the first class to the dangerous for consumption and unworthy to be called “caviar”. It is fact that the hot demand for the genuine caviar satisfied only up to 30%. The rest of the caviar demand is exploited by many types of caviar fraudsters which operate worldwide. Generally speaking, the further the buyer is from traditional habitats of Sturgeons, the more fraudsters operate. The caviar frauds range from more or less “mild” ones to really brazen ones. Apart from the commonly known “money laundering”, “caviar laundering” has been invented. The first stage of caviar laundering takes place in certain countries with cheap labour and low food safety standards: the Sturgeons are being farmed there, but using a “speedy” technology involving injecting the Sturgeons with antibiotics, growth hormones and feeding them with cheap and inadequate feed. The Sturgeon females are being forced to spawn twice a year and at pre-mature age with the help of hormonal injections. The second stage is illegal bulk transportation of such “fast-food caviar” to a perfectly legitimate aquafarm in one of the European countries, where it is re-packed into nice looking branded jars with attractive labels. Such laundered “caviar” can be detected by its rather pungent fish smell, bitter earthy taste and too much salt.
Apart from such inadequate quality, but still technically “Sturgeon caviar”, there are many types of fake “caviar”, starting from painted frogs’ roe and to artificially created grains made from gelatin, margarine and food colouring. In other words, the chances of being sold some fake “caviar” are much higher than being sold genuine, let alone high quality Sturgeon caviar. If you have doubts, better not to risk consuming some dodgy “caviar” to avoid food poisonings.
The genuine and quality Sturgeon caviar has no fish smell, but a very subtle sea aroma. The professionals trained to assign quality scores divide caviar into two grades, determined by such factors as egg color, size, clarity, taste, aroma, and firmness. Grade 1 (A Grade) caviar includes the firmest, largest, most intact eggs with a fine color and flavour. Grade 2 (B Grade) caviar can be tasty or decadent and consists of less delicate and uniformly formed eggs.
Genuine caviar quality significantly depends on the type of farming technology used by an aquafarm. Farming Sturgeon species is a process which takes many years: fertilized eggs – Sturgeon fry – mature fish – Sturgeon ready to spawn – roe harvesting – roe processing – caviar packaging. Different Sturgeon species require different length of cycles. Beluga takes the longest: the Beluga females are ready for the first time spawning at the age no earlier that 18 years. Beluga itself has a very long life expectancy – up to 100 years! However, Beluga can produce roe once in 4-5 years. Therefore, it is highly unlikely to find genuine aquafarmed Beluga caviar on the market. By the way, before the total ban on wild Sturgeon fishing, the most valued caviar was the golden-coloured Beluga found in Beluga species no younger than 85 years of age.
Despite the common misconception that caviar must be black in colour, the colour of caviar depends on the age of the fish: the young fish indeed produce black caviar. However, the older is the fish, the more delicious its roe is believed to be; at the same time, the older fish is, the lighter in colour its roe is. Accordingly, when caviar is being graded, the lighter it is, the more expensive it is.
The quality of caviar also largely depends on the quality of feeds they get. Because sturgeon are kept on-farm for many years and grow quite old, it is even more important to supply specific sturgeon feeds with all of the important nutrients they need in ample amounts. By doing so, the aging females stay healthy and robust, even at an advanced age, and are able to continue providing delicious caviar.
So, since Beluga is currently unattainable, the best possible caviar these days is Ossetra caviar. Again, “God is in details”, so the consumer must understand the important nuances of aquafarming technologies.
Firstly, roe of sturgeon species can be obtained by two main methods: with or without killing females of Sturgeon species. The second method allows obtaining roe up to 8-10 times from every female. This method involves a process called “stripping”, which extracts the roe from the fish without surgical intervention. At first glance the second method is much more humane, however, the caviar harvested this way is deemed to be second-grade. This is caused by the fact that sturgeon females receive hormonal injections, artificially maturing their roe, which inevitably gets into the caviar. On top of this, the fish which undergoes up to 12-hour procedure of “stripping” out of water and on a surgical table – a huge stress for the fish. Moreover, the fish itself generates “the hormones of fear” which negatively impacts the caviar quality.
And this is not all: the “stripping” technology in fact imitates the natural spawning process, however, during this process the fish generates special “glue” to cover the roe grains in order to for the roe grains to self-attach to the water plants. Such roe is not suitable for human consumption, and this is why this glue is being washed off in hot salt solution or steam. Such “stripped” caviar is distinctive for its firm grain encapsulations. Such caviar is not valued by the caviar experts and connoisseurs.
The slaughtering method is a traditional way of obtaining caviar, which fishermen used many centuries ago. Using this technology, when the correct stage of maturity of the eggs is reached, the fish is killed and a fresh and tasty product literally melting in the mouth is obtained. Therefore, the traditional harvesting method produces a significantly higher quality caviar.
Nevertheless, regardless of the roe harvesting method used, the shelf life of freshly salted and then vacuum canned caviar is rather short, maximum nine months. This is something that most caviar distributors don’t accept, and therefore pressure the caviar producers to utilize additional measures, such as pasteurization, to lengthen the shelf life up to two years. Only glass jars can be used for pasteurization (keeping the glass jars with caviar for two hours under the temperature of 65°С. This not only adversely impacts the caviar taste, but also its nutritional quality by destroying valuable enzymes. So, if you see two years shelf life declared on a glass jar with caviar, you have pasteurized caviar in front of you. I personally would not call such product “caviar”.
Secondly, it is also essential that the female sturgeon go through a winter (period in icy-cold water, as it would happen in their original natural habitat), as this is required for the final development of the eggs. For this purpose, the more advanced aquafarms have artificial wintering units where the sturgeon are kept. In these winter units, the water temperature is kept at 4°C or below, and the light conditions are manipulated to imitate winter. The mature females are kept in the winter system for 2-3 months without feed, just as they would experience in nature. After this period, the sturgeon can be introduced to spring conditions. This is very important for the caviar quality: such caviar will not have pungent fish smell.
Thirdly, it is very important how soon after the harvesting the roe was mixed with the required volume of salt. This process must be completed no later than three hours after the roe was taken from Sturgeon fish.
Traditionally, only salt was used as a preservative. High quality caviar can have no more than 3% salt by weight added; this is called “malossol” caviar (the Ukrainian word “malossol” means the smallest possible amount of salt added). However, the shelf life of “malossol” caviar is limited to two weeks. Therefore, in order to prolong caviar shelf-life add more salt (International standards allow up to 5% salt by weight added), however, such caviar cannot be called “malossol”. The good news is that “malossol” caviar with longer shelf life is achievable with the help of safe natural preservative, sorbic acid (E200), added in small quantities. Unlike other preservatives, sorbic acid does not kill the bacteria, but rather prevents their growth. Moreover, in small dosages sorbic acid has a positive adaptogenic effect on human body, by boosting the immunity and helping to detox.
Unfortunately, the majority of caviar producers are using another, highly toxic preservative called ‘borax’ (E239), banned in New Zealand, but permitted in other countries, for example, European Union and China. Despite the fact that ‘borax’ (E239) is banned in New Zealand, it is still being imported as part as caviar produced in European Union and China.
TOP QUALITY MALOSSOL CAVIAR SELECTED FOR PUHOI ORGANIC DISTILLERY. I had made it my goal to find the best producer of caviar for Puhoi Organic Distillery’s tastings with Caviar Vodka. And after a very detailed and thorough research, I signed an exclusive contract for direct import to NZ with the aquafarm producing “malossol” Ossetra caviar; this Ukrainian aquafarm produces the top quality caviar under the brand “Black Sea Caviar”. Their caviar is served not only to the Ukrainian government, but even to the Pope in Vatican.
The fresh and non-pasteurized “malossol” Ossetra caviar is being selected for Puhoi Organic Distillery’s and is being processed according to the classic method in presence of the Distillery’s representative. The roe is being harvested from the Ossetra no younger than 11 years of age (the roe grains reach about 3mm in diameter at this stage), and after the two months the fish spent an artificial winter – when the fish are in the best condition for roe harvesting. The pain-free method is used: the fish is put to sleep in ice beds. The roe harvesting, processing and packaging is all done by hand. The elegant caviar tins are French-made especially for vacuum packaging. The shelf life is nine months from the packaging date with the condition of adhering to the storage temperature from -2°C to -4°C. The logistics of delivering this caviar from Ukraine to Auckland was a challenge, however, successfully solved: the caviar airfreight is implemented in a temperature controlled container and takes no longer than five days. Immediately upon arrival to Auckland, the caviar is transferred to the soft chiller, especially purchased for this purpose from a Danish specialized manufacturer, with the storage temperature from -2°C to -4°C.
ENJOY YOUR CAVIAR LIKE A CONNOISSEUR: Since ancient times, caviar has been considered a gastronomic extravagance in gourmet cuisine environments. Nowadays, it is most often served as an appetizer. I suggest tasting the caviar in three consecutive stages: appreciation its appearance, then its aroma, and finally tasting it, including the first burst of flavour and its delicate aftertaste. I recommend this professional method for the tasting of the first portion of caviar: put a small amount of caviar on the back of your hand, between the thumb and index finger. Wait a few seconds to allow the grains to match your body’s temperature. Then bring your hand to your mouth and take in the caviar grains, placing them on your tongue and pressing them against the top of your mouth to release the liquid and aroma. The good quality caviar should have a pleasant sea aroma. The caviar grains should resemble shiny small pearls. The aftertaste should be slightly hazelnutty.
Caviar is often served on its own: it is kept chilled and served on a bed of ice, and is eaten with a small spoon (but not silver spoon, as silver affects the taste). At this exciting point I always recall my favorite caviar joke: “Only dogs can eat caviar without vodka!” The true caviar connoisseurs always taste caviar accompanied by a shot of classic grain vodka, icy cold: first caviar, then vodka (and never the other way round!). The second option involves a glass of dry champagne, but always in the same manner: the caviar first.
However, Puhoi Organic Distillery has come up with a better matching option. As you know, human taste palette can distinct 5 different tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. The caviar provides the salts and umami tastes and Puhoi Caviar Vodka provides the rest. As the result, the spoon of caviar combined in your mouth with a shot of Puhoi Caviar Vodka served at room temperature lifts you to the gourmet paradise.
If you are lucky enough to have more than one bite-full of caviar, there are several additional gourmet options to enjoy it. The most traditional one used in Ukraine malossol Caviar served on ray bread with a dollop of crème fraiche. Another one is caviar served on a slice of a ripe tomato or a slice of a baked potato. There are other delicious ways, such as caviar on blini or puff pastry tarts, halves of hard-boiled quail eggs, etc.
But in any case, caviar must be closely followed by vodka! Apart from the Classic Grain Vodka and Puhoi Caviar Vodka, I suggest to taste the caviar with other Puhoi Organic Distillery’s vodkas: Horilka (Manuka Honey & Chilli vodka), Starka (Oak matured vodka), Wasabi Vodka, Wormwood Vodka and Sauvignon Blanc Vodka.
HOW TO JOIN THE PUHOI ORGANIC DISTILLERY’S ‘CAVIAR CLUB’: First of all, it is a good idea to join one of the Puhoi Organic Distillery’s boutique caviar tastings to obtain basic caviar experience facilitated by the caviar experts. This is a good opportunity to taste not only the best genuine caviar, but also the handcrafted limited edition caviar-matching beverages. This will also open the doors for you to join the Puhoi Organic Distillery’s Caviar Club, as the membership in this Club is restricted to the caviar connoisseurs only. As the exclusive importers of the genuine caviar and the boutique producers of caviar-matching spirits, we guarantee the Caviar Club members the priority rights to purchase the Caviar Ossetra 30g & Caviar Vodka 375mlCaviar&Spirits sets. Due to the logistics and regulations restricting the volume of the caviar that can be imported, the Caviar Club membership is important for those who desire to have all-year access to the genuine caviar imported directly from the producer. The good news is that Caviar Club membership is free, however, only those who obtained the Puhoi Organic Distillery’s boutique caviar tastings will be able to join. These Caviar Tastings fall into two categories: 1) private events conducted at Puhoi Organic Distillery; 2) private/corporate events at other Auckland’s locations organized by a customer with the Distillery’s team conducting them.
For bookings call Victoria Kirichuk (our Duty Manager) on 021 687 049, or email her at email@example.com .