The caviar industry
Thirty years ago, most of the caviar came from the Caspian Sea and the business was dominated by a handful of caviar traders from Iran and Russia. Since the foundation of CITES (see below) in 1998, and following growing demand for sustainably produced sturgeon caviar, the industry has grown into a global business, with farms all over the world. Carelian caviar´s sustainable farm is situated in the Finnish lake district and is the only sturgeon caviar producer in the Nordic region.
This mighty fish, whose prized roe is used to make caviar, is a 300-million-year-old prehistoric animal that survived the dinosaurs. The largest of the species is the Beluga sturgeon (Huso Huso), which can grow twenty feet long, become more than 100 years old and weigh over two tons. Carelian Caviar cultivates the Siberian sturgeon (Acipenser Baerii), which produces a caviar called Baerial. The Siberian sturgeon can weigh up to 200 kg and takes between four and six years to produce caviar roe.
Caviar - fresh vs. pasteurised
Caviar is made from the roe found in female sturgeons. There are many different varieties of this fish, as well as different ways of preparing the roe, resulting in varying qualities of caviar. Fresh caviar entitled ´malossol´ (Russian for 'lightly salted'), has the finest taste. It is superior in quality but comes with a short shelf life. By pasteurising the roe or treating it with additives such as Borax and LIV-1, it is possible to extend the shelf life of caviar, but this results in the caviar losing complexity and flavour. Carelian Caviar is never pasteurised.
Sturgeon caviar, much like white truffles and saffron, is among the highest prized commodities in the world. The longer it takes a sturgeon to produce roe, the higher the cost of its caviar. Beluga Caviar, from the Caspian Sea´s indigenous Huso Huso sturgeon, takes an incredible 18 - 20 years to produce. No wonder it costs a fortune and only a few farms in the world produce this type of caviar. Roe from a sturgeon that takes less time to mature is, of course, cheaper and there are also price differences between fresh caviar and caviar that has been treated with preservatives.
How to tell if caviar is good or bad
The scent of good caviar is clean and its grains should explode against your tongue. The flavour should be fresh at first taste, growing more complex and rich as the caviar spreads around the mouth. The saltiness should be well integrated in the caviar, with hints of ocean detectable in an aftertaste that also incorporates buttery, nutty flavours. Good caviar does not taste of mud. If you pick up notes of soil or damp basement, your caviar is likely to have been subjected to geosmin (caused by bacteria in hot, muddy water).
What is CITES?
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Given that nearly all caviar traded today is farmed, CITES now oversees the industry on a more general level, ensuring best practice through a coding system. All registered caviar producers place a CITES code to the bottom of their tins to prove their content is authentic.
Deciphering the CITES code
Here´s what a sample code - BAE/C/FI/2017/FI-02KTP/B680 - will tell you:
- BAE - the type of caviar is in the rin (in this case Baerial Aspensi)
- C - whether a caviar is cultivated (C) or wild (W)
- FI - the country the caviar is from (in this case Finland)
- 2017 - the year of production
- FI-02KTP - the unique code for the company licensed to pack/repack the tin
- B680 - the unique code for the caviar itself (if you gave this to the company that packed the tin, they would be able to tell you which farm and batch it came from).