In 1898, when the Ritz Hotel in Paris first opened its doors to a “glittering reception”, caviar with champagne came very soon to be one of the signatures of the bar menu. Indeed, caviar is associated with something luxury, exquisite and extravagant at the same time.
What is caviar?
The term caviar (sometimes called Russian caviar or black caviar) refers to the salted roe of fish called sturgeon, whose eggs have the appearance of glistening black pearls. Sturgeon is one of the oldest families of bony fish dwelling in rivers, lakes, and coastlines of Eurasia and North America, in particular the Caspian Sea which is bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. The caviar is produced from three species of sturgeon: Beluga sturgeon (Beluga caviar), Russian sturgeon (Osetra caviar), and stellate sturgeon (Sevruga caviar). The largest type of sturgeon, beluga can reach 5 meters in length and weigh as much as 1 tonne.
Today, the Caspian Sea region delivers about ninety percent of the world’s sturgeon catch. However, pollution of the Caspian waters and overfishing are threatening the sturgeon existence by significantly reducing sturgeon stocks.
Caviar by Chanel
Caviar is also mentioned in connection with the House of Chanel and its famous 2.55 flap bag in caviar, which is mad of grained calfskin, which by its structure reminds small caviar pearls.
The word “Caviar”
The word caviar originates from Turkish havyar which in its turn derives from Persian khaya, meaning “egg”. In English print the word firs appeared in 1591. The first known record of caviar was made by the Greek scholar Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.E. while describing its delicacy on banquets amongst other savoury viands.
However, it was Russian tsars who raised caviar to its luxury status. Since the twelfth century caviar was known in Russia but only in the sixteenth century it reached the European royal court as well as the Russian Imperial table. In the eighteenth century Peter the Great presented caviar to King Louis XV of France, who, according to a legend, found the taste unpleasant and spat it out directly on the carpets of Versailles. Anyhow, by the nineteenth century, Russian caviar conquered the international market as a luxury item.
Iran followed in Russia’s footsteps and organized its own caviar industry on the southern shores of the Caspian.
In 1873 an enterprising German immigrant Henry Schacht established the American caviar business with Delaware River sturgeon. At that time, caviar was highly undervalued product in America and saloon owners offered it free to patrons in order to increase their consumption of whiskey and beer.
By 1900 the US became the biggest producer of caviar in the world, generating over six hundred tonnes each year and soon the American sturgeon population was seriously depleted. Thus American production was halted and caviar once again became a luxury item.
Some Caviar Stories
Caviar should be kept cold with limited exposure to air. While serving it should be carefully piled on plain toast points as an hors dóeuvre or gently spread on blinis by a mother-of-pearl spoon, probably with a little crème fraiche, to underscore the taste of caviar.
Once have tasted caviar with its delicate texture when eggs popping on your tongue letting a slightly sweet and salt taste leak into the mouth, you will certainly understand why Frank Sinatra used to send champagne and beluga caviar to Marilyn Monroe, while they were having a love affair in summer of 1961.
Another caviar story says that Ernest Hemingway promised Marlene Dietrich a Caviar and Champagne lunch if she agreed to let him interview her. Later he recorded: “If she had nothing more than her voice she could break your heart with it. But she has that beautiful body and the timeless loveliness of her face. It makes no difference how she breaks your heart if she is there to mend it.”
At Picasso’s days a pièce montée of oysters filled in shells with caviar was quite a popular viand at the balls the Beaumonts (the Count and Countess Etienne de Beaumont) used to give. Thus, Picasso was not any exception when it concerned caviar, and beluga caviar was the artist’s steadfast favourite. As a payment for his caviar stash, Picasso used to send money wrapped in a signed sketch. Luxury of caviar purchased by the creativity of Picasso. Which of those two would cost more today…
French President Charles de Gaulle had a soft corner in the heart for caviar, as well as Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond.
However, caviar today is not merely a luxury food but a magic ingredient of luxury skin care products. Today there is a wide range of facial product series labelled with “caviar”. A commercial trick or a scientific discovery?
Swiss La Prairie is one of the first cosmetic companies who has developed a skin caviar collection based on concentrated caviar extracts that lift and firm skin, by drenching it with nutrients. Angelina Jolie is one of the faithful customers who seems to be satisfied with the effect the products offer.
The caviar roe contains approximately 47 vitamins and minerals as well as amino acids, but the question is whether the product can at least keep a part of those after being extracted. However, the internal use of caviar accompanied by slightly chilled champagne – which turns the whole procedure into a gastronomic adventure – is undoubtedly the classiest one and, thus, the most preferable.