Caviar for Beginners
If you haven’t heard: from gourmet tasting rooms in Los Angeles to The New York Times’ holiday gift guide, caviar is making a comeback. Not that it had ever really gone out of style; we introduced caviar service when Root & Flower first opened its doors in 2014, and we’re excited to bring it back when we open our new space on Bridge Street sometime next month. Shockingly, we’re the only restaurant in Vail Village that offers the delicacy regularly, so we felt compelled to explain it to first-timers (and if you already love it, just relax and let us do the rest).
First of all, traditional caviar, which is roe from a sturgeon, is a little different than it used to be—namely because most caviar nowadays is farmed. Back when Russian aristocrats would sup on caviar over lavish dinners (we’re talking way back in the days of Tsarist Russia), sturgeon roe was so abundant that it was affordable for the masses, and it was harvested from wild sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea. In 2007, Russia outlawed the harvest and sale of black caviar due to overfishing (although, a black market for the Russian product currently still thrives), and countries around the world (including the United States) banned the import and sale of roe from Russia’s endangered sturgeon. Although, by that time, other producers had already started cutting into the industry. China is actually the world’s leading producer (Chinese caviar accounts for 60 percent of the world’s supply, thanks to the Kaluga Queen brand, which is cultivated Qiandao Lake near Zhejiang), and even countries in the Middle East, Asia, and (surprisingly) Uruguay in South America have added caviar to their list of exports. Canada and the United States have also become major producers, and were some of Europe’s biggest suppliers as Russian caviar products dwindled in the 20th century.
That brings us to today—despite wild sturgeon being critically endangered, environmentally-conscious producers are at the unique point that they can cultivate premium products and safeguard the sturgeon population. That’s one of the reasons we went with Calvisius Caviar when we were putting together our menu for the new space. The company raises its farm-bred sturgeon in northern Italy’s Po Valley, and developed a unique breeding program for sturgeon in on-site freshwater lakes with the help of marine biologists from University of California, Davis in the 1980s that’s won them awards for their focus on sustainability.
The other reason we picked Calvisius is the quality and taste. “Middle of the road caviar has kind of a nutty, hazelnut taste, and it’s where people get the impression that it’s slimy,” says Root & Flower chef Matt Limbaugh. “With really good quality caviar, you’re looking for a clean, creamy texture with a pop in your mouth.” And service to match; Limbaugh’s offering blinis with creme fraiche and serving it via mother of pearl spoons as part of Root & Flower’s traditional caviar service, although guests can also expect to see some more contemporary menu items using the ingredient throughout the winter season—like a caviar-topped fingerling potato chip. “It’s a fun presentation, and it’s more less rigid for people who maybe haven’t tried it before,” says Limbaugh. “But caviar service with the blinis makes it the star of the plate—when you have nice caviar, it really should be eaten on its own.”
And washed down with ice cold vodka, if you want an experience that’s assuredly authentic.