What is Osetra & How is it Made?
WHAT IS OSETRA?
Of the 27 species of sturgeon, Osetra caviar is roe that comes specifically from the Russian Sturgeon (species acipenser gueldenstaedii), native to the Caspian Sea. Osetra caviar is known for it’s nutty, buttery flavor, and roe color ranging from deep umber to light amber and gold. Osetra caviar is particularly coveted for it’s golden color. In the olden days, Russian Sturgeon flourished in the Caspian. If one was caught with golden roe, it was immediately reserved for the king. This tradition reflects in today’s market, as prices are much higher for lighter colored Osetra – up to $13K per kilogram!
OSETRA IN THE CAVIAR HIERARCHY
In the traditional caviar hierarchy, the top 3 caviars come from sturgeon species native to the Caspian Sea. In this hierarchy, Osetra caviar is shadowed only by Beluga caviar. Since the species that produces Beluga (Huso Huso) is virtually extinct in the wild, fiercely regulated and impossible to farm in any capacity, you could deduce that Osetra is the top caviar available today.
HOW IS OSETRA MADE
It takes 7-10 years until our Russian Sturgeon females produce their first batch of roe. This is a long investment, so we are in no rush to harvest caviar that isn’t up to par. If we check a fish (via ultrasound and biopsy) whose eggs are too small or too soft, we return the female to the tank so we can check it again the following year. Alternatively, if the roe passes our quality tests, it is harvested, graded and immediately sold through our retail shop. Typically, our sturgeon roe is about 12% of the female’s total body weight. We use the traditional Malossol method in making our Osetra caviar. This means that we use 4% salt per volume of roe presented from the female. So, if we harvest a female with 2000g (2kg) of roe, we would mix it with 80g of salt. The goal in this recipe is to use the least amount of salt in order to properly preserve the caviar. In the olden days before refrigeration, much more salt would have been used, resulting in very salty caviar. We are required by the FDA to have our caviar routinely tested for proper salt content.
DIFFERENCES IN BATCHES
Each batch of Osetra caviar is unique in flavor, color and texture. Since we do not genetically alter our fish in any way, a wide variety of Osetra caviar can be observed. Some roe seems to absorb salt differently than others, resulting in different sensations on the taste buds. The structure of some roe seems to allow salt to pass through the entire orb evenly, while other roe tends to hold more salt in the outer membrane. So, even though every batch uses the same amount of salt, some Osetra will taste initially saltier but with a buttery finish, while others will have a more even sensation. Since nuances exist from one tin to the next, I always recommend tasting your caviar alone before deciding what to serve it with. Caviar that tastes initially salty is excellent with a little creme fraiche, while Everyday caviar that exhibits some bitterness (like olives) will do well with lemon and creme fraiche.
Maintaining firmness is the biggest challenge in the aim of producing the perfect caviar. Some batches of Osetra exhibit more firmness than others. On harvest day, caviar has the most “pop.” As the salt passes through the roe, the eggs soften and lose much of the initial texture (similar to cucumbers becoming pickles). Today, caviar made in China and other countries may have more “pop” resulting from using borax as a firming agent. Borax is banned in the US in food production due to risks of fetal harm in pregnant women.
R.A.S. – IT’S NOT A FACTORY FARM
Raising sturgeon for caviar is possibly one of the most complex farming challenges in operation today. In an effort to be an environmentally sustainable caviar producer, we are using aquaculture technology that does not rely on bodies of water (lakes, rivers, ponds). This means we depend on our staff’s expertise in all things mechanical; pumps, filters, plumbing and electrical challenges. In fact, our facilities are more of a water treatment plant with sturgeon in the middle. We even have an ex-municipal water treatment plant technician as our facilities manager. By recycling all of our water the same way a water treatment plant does, we internalize pollution problems, therefore minimizing environmental impact. This is an expensive, labor intensive way to farm, but it is the only way to give a sustainable option to the future of aquaculture.