Next time you're looking for a light-hearted amuse-bouche, try caviar
Written by Ross Vernon Dias
What you should know about the original black gold.
In the minds of many, caviar occupies a Venn diagram of sorts that intersects aspiration with curiosity and intimidation. Like many of the finer things in life, it takes meticulous care and years of refined technique to ensure that a luxury product is up to standard. But caviar shouldn’t be a menu item that you automatically skim over. The truth is, it’s just as approachable as ordering a flute of champagne or dram of Scotch, easily enjoyed at home or out in celebration with friends.
While the Caspian Sea sturgeon is the most well-known of caviars, a Canadian company, Northern Divine, is changing the perception of this ‘black gold’ with their implementation of sustainable farming practices out of their facilities in Vancouver, B.C. We asked general manager, Justin Henry, what people should know when starting out. Here’s how he broke it down.
Is it sustainably sourced?
The Caspian Sea was once known as the world’s premiere source of sturgeon caviar for the better part of a century. Before today’s farming practices gained prominence, Beluga, Osetra and Sevruga were the three main varieties. After the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and subsequent overfishing, sturgeon numbers drastically declined and harvesting from wild populations in the Caspian Sea was no longer considered sustainable. While a Serbian variety called Baeri is now the most common type of caviar on the market today, white sturgeon from British Columbia are starting to get noticed thanks to Northern Divine.
“At Northern Divine we are able to raise the sturgeon fish with no impact on the wild stock and this is done in a controlled environment where all inputs such as feed, water quality and other factors are strictly monitored and accomplished in an organic and sustainable matter,” says Henry.
It’s no surprise that Northern Divine has grown a steady base of loyal followers. In an era where corporate social responsibility and transparency are increasingly becoming a part of the dialogue between companies and consumers, they’ve hit the nail on the head. So committed is Northern Divine—a certified organic company under the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard—to their mission that they reuse 99 percent of their water through recirculating aquaculture systems and farming aquatic plants.
“Sustainable farming practices are incredibly important to us. We started implementing recirculating aquaculture systems back in 1998, which filter and reuse the culture water. These systems enable ideal rearing conditions for the fish and also minimize the water use. We are focused on animal welfare, which not only ensures that the animals are properly cared for, but also that the quality of the products produced are the best they can be,” Henry says.
In other words: happy sturgeon, happy customer.
What should it taste like?
Like wine, the flavour profile of caviar develops as it ages. In that same vein, preference is often based on personal taste and a person’s palate.
“We never mix eggs between two different fish as they vary in colour, size, flavour, texture, and how long they take to age,” says Henry. “The caviar should always have a clean flavour with an initial touch of salt, but not a finish of salt.” He continues, “The beads of caviar should easily burst into the wonderful flavours with just slight pressure. Its aroma should be very slight initially when the caviar is cold. As it warms, it should smell of a clean ocean mist.”
How should I consume it?
One of the biggest misconceptions about caviar is that it’s an inaccessible product for the one percent, when really it’s something that can easily be enjoyed, like a fine wine. When consumed at home the caviar should be stored in the coolest part of the refrigerator, unopened, at around two degrees centigrade. Accoutrements like a potato blini, crème fraîche, and even scrambled eggs can be served with a large dollop of caviar.
“Any dish that will not mask the flavour of the caviar is delicious,” says Henry. “My favourite is just with a spoon—a mother of pearl spoon, as you should avoid metal which may impart a metallic flavour to the caviar.”