One of the hallmarks of a great holiday party is a Petrossian caviar bar. As you might expect, guests flock to it and savor the rich, silky delicacy, which is most often served atop a homemade blini. Pop one of these little gems into your mouth and your taste buds won’t just do a happy dance, they’ll perform the Nutcracker.
But I’ve been wondering, what is it exactly that catapults caviar into the luxury food category, besides the price? I turned to Petrossian’s, Gwen Baird to shed light on the diminutive eggs. Petrossian is considered the finest caviar importer in the world. Headquartered in Paris, the House of Petrossian was established in 1920 by two brothers, Melkoum and Mouchegh Petrossian. Nearly 90 years later, it remains a family business. (See their photo below)
For starters, Baird explains, every year wild roe, what the eggs are called before they are salt-cured and become caviar, becomes less available. The habitat of the Caspian Sea—ground zero for wild caviar—is on the decline as is its sturgeon, the fish from which several types of caviar come from. Restrictions are in place to prevent over-harvesting, so the caviar market is increasingly turning to environmentally-sustainable farms.
Sounds like a good solution, but, says Baird, “You don’t just decide to open a farm one day and the next day you sell caviar. It takes years for the aqua culture to develop and a minimum of seven years for a female sturgeon to produce eggs.” So although there are farms all over the world now, it remains a sophisticated and time-consuming process to arrive at a tin of edible gold.
Another complicating factor is that all roe are not at the same maturity level when you harvest them. “They’re a little bit like fine wine,” says Baird. “They take time to mature.” But unlike wine, once caviar is ripe, it has a limited shelf life. The House of Petrossian grades each batch of caviar to determine its readiness and stores it in refrigerated vaults until it peaks, anywhere from two months to a year and a half. “Very few in the caviar business have the knowledge, capital or real estate to do that,” says Baird. Petrossian does this with tons, tons, of caviar each year.
And there you have a Cliff Notes version of why the House of Petrossian is the leader in the field of caviar, and the only brand I would recommend.