Even though Caviar preparation is a fairly simple process that has only marginally evolved over the last hundred years, it requires expertise that takes years to be built. Preparing Caviar is even considered a hand-made art form.
Whether we are dealing with sturgeons from aqualculture or living in their natural habitat, steps to obtain the precious golden eggs follow a logical sequence.
One of the first step of Caviar preparation is understanding whether or not the female sturgeons roes are mature enough to be harvested and processed.
This means a trip to an ultrasound station. The roes must reach optimum maturity, just before natural spawning takes place. That is between 5 to 8 years for most of aqualculture sturgeons and roes reach a diameter between 2 to 4 mm. If the screen reveals part of the sturgeon precious content, a biopsy would be necessary to confirm the roes readiness for processing.
When roes are confirmed to be ready for harvesting, female sturgeons are taken to the processing site where the fish and its roes will be handled under strict hygienic conditions.
The ovaries are removed from the sedated sturgeon by splitting its underside with a sharp knife. Ovaries are the organ who produces the eggs and are comparable to grapes on a vine. they are almost as long as the fish itself and contains ten of thousands of eggs. A female sturgeon can contain anywhere between 10 to 20% of its body weight in its 2 ovaries.
They need to be quickly removed because an enzyme who could alter their taste is realeased from the dead fish.
Envelop and roes are weighted, measured and an identification number is given for traceability.
Following that, some producers proceed with assembly where they will sort the ovaries according to roes colour, texture and the type of Caviar they wish to obtain. It is striking to observe the variation between roes of sturgeons belonging to teh same species and generation. Roes colour can vary from cream to dark black.
Ovaries are then worked through a sieve with the palm of the hand for optimum control in order to remove the membrane and reveal the precious eggs.
Roes are then rinsed several time to wash away impurities that went down during sieving generally using filtered water. Final touch may require a tweezer. Once ready future Caviar is dried and weighted.
Roes are now carefully salted to maximise their future flavour and for conservation purposes becoming our precious Caviar in the process.
Each Caviar producer will have its own salting process secret and will chose the salt type (pharmaceutical grade, precise region or mine) and exact amount based on roes origin, total weight, maturity, texture and what he wants to achieve.
Traditional Caviar has also some Borax added to it which further sweetens the product and increases its shelf life.
Borax is one of the reason never to taste Caviar using metal as a chemical reaction will alter the Caviar taste.
It is now time to taste the result of our effort and verify that there is no issue with the freshly made Caviar. If there isn’t, Caviar is graded according to each producers scale.
Caviar quality controllers are looking for a good pop in mouth that is prefered comparing to a too soft Caviar.
Universal Caviar grading:
Grade 1 Caviar is Caviar that ideally combines all properties; it must be firm, large grained, delicate, intact, of fine color and flavor.
Grade 2 Caviar is Caviar with normal grain size, very good color and fine flavor.
Caviar is finally packed into a lacquer lined tin and pressed down to eleminate any air pocket . Those tins have been used for more than hundred years as no better conservation means have been found.
They are then sealed with a wide rubber band and can be kept refrigerated for approximately a year.
Once packed Caviar life is actually just starting. It will absorb salt, swell up, and its characteritcis and flavour will change while quality will rise.