The birthplace of the Legend.
Today Caviar comes from numerous farms located worldwide. Its quality and price depend on the manufacturer's reputation, techniques and conditions of fish breeding, and many other factors.
However, back in the day, Caviar belonged to the "game" culinary group, which means that it came exclusively from wild animals.
The first records about Caviar date back to the days of the Persian Empire. In fact, the very name of the product originates from the Persian word "Khav-ya'ar", which may be translated as "fruit of strength" or "fruit of power".
Back in the day, Persians believed that Caviar has numerous medicinal qualities as well as the ability to become a powerful aphrodisiac.
Persians harvested their Caviar from sturgeon that inhabited the Kura river. Today it is the third biggest river after Volga and Ural. It is located Greater Caucasus Mountains, which drains the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus east into the Caspian Sea. No wonder that traditionally the ultimate wild Caviar is still associated with the sturgeon found in the Caspian Sea.
In the 4th century BC, Aristotle described the delicacy and sophistication of Caviar, which was served on luxurious banquettes of aristocrats. British medieval kings reserved sturgeon as the "Royal Fish", putting severe restrictions on its sales and consumptions according to the social hierarchy.
However, those were Russian emperors who might have granted Caviar its image of a genuinely luxurious delicacy.
With such rich history and reputation, Caviar must have taken over the American high society banquettes as soon as it has arrived at the New World. Not at all! Caviar's path to the tables of the American rich and famous was long and complicated.
Caviar – Coming to America.
Most people may find it hard to believe that the product that equaled one hundred sheep per jar in Europe went for as low as a nickel in American saloons and cheap dining establishments.
Entrepreneurs of the New world appreciated Caviar not for its sophisticated buttery flavor and the unequaled sensation on the palate, later called "the Caspian Pop", but simply for its saltiness. Served on a simple pretzel or a cracker, Caviar made people thirsty, forcing them to order more drinks. In other words, Caviar started its career in America as a cheap and vulgar beer snack.
Henry Schacht – a German immigrant who started his business in 1873, became the forefather of the American Caviar industry. He started catching sturgeon at Delaware River at Penns Grove, New Jersey. Back in the day, this area was the primary inhabitant of the sturgeon. It seemed bottomless.
In fact, fishers often simply threw it away or gave it to dogs, considering Caviar as fish subproducts that had no place in the American diet back then.
With such seemingly endless and effortless supply, Schacht started selling American sturgeon overseas for as little as $1 per pound. By the end of the XIX century, American suppliers held almost 90% of the world's Caviar market.
Ant this is when the mysterious turning point happened. European entrepreneurs started to re-sell American Caviar back to the United States, labeling it the luxurious "Russian Caviar". The two massive immigration waves caused by Russian revolutions brought with them stories and evidence about the grand reputation of the Russian Caviar, its belonging to the high-end cuisine of the world's wealthiest family – Romanovs themselves.
That was the moment when Caviar made its second appearance on American soil. But now, it was not a beer snack or useless sub-product. From now on, it has obtained its righteously deserved entourage of luxury and sophistication.
The only problem was that most of the time, it had nothing to do with the legendary Caspian wild Sturgeon. With the 90% market share, it is pretty easy to believe that lion's share of the luxurious "Russian Caviar" back then was the same Pennsylvanian Caviar served in pubs and saloons.
Luckily, along with legends and reputations, Russian Immigrants of the early XX century brought their knowledge and expertise. Till now, true appreciators and gourmands claim that one may quickly tell the difference between the authentic Caspian Sturgeon product and any other types of sturgeon roe. Therefore, justice has been served on the American Caviar market, and the product took its righteous place among high-end gourmet ingredients.
Caviar's position on the American market today is a result of numerous influences. The political turmoils in Russia and Iran – the leading suppliers of Caspian Sturgeon, might have been the most powerful, but still not the main factors.
Due to unethical and somewhat barbaric ways to harvest the Caviar, the Caspian sturgeon had almost faced extinction several decades ago. It leads to a search for innovative solutions and the development of sturgeon farms.
American Caviar market becomes more and more diverse and competitive. Unfortunately, it often leads to a significant product quality decrease. To get truly authentic Caviar today, it is essential to address experienced and reputable suppliers, focused on the product precisely, its sourcing, storing, transportation and delivery.
Only that way can you avoid our ancestors' mistakes made at the end of the XIX century and get the ultimately valuable and luxurious product, the hallmark of tradition and gourmet sophistication.