Another year, another Valentine’s Day, another surplus of boring, unoriginal gifts. Don’t get us wrong, we have nothing against a stunning bouquet of flowers or a box of handmade artisan chocolates. But if you’re looking to mix things up this Valentine’s Day, may we suggest the gift of caviar
Intrigued? We thought so.
When it comes to luxury foods, it doesn’t get much better than caviar; and there’s a reason why caviar has been held in such high esteem for more than a century. That pop, that delicious burst of pure, clean, briny freshness—there’s nothing else like it. The Russian caviars of gourmet lore are sourced from three species of sturgeon—beluga, osetra, and sevruga—harvested from the rivers that feed into the Caspian and Black Seas. However, these species have been pushed to the brink of extinction by lawless overfishing and poaching, so you can pretty much forget about getting a Russian jar.
We realize that such inaccessibility only adds to the intrigue; that’s human nature. Gourmands desire Russian caviar just like cigar aficionados pine for Cuban tobacco and at-home chefs crave fresh truffles. Sadly, the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba isn’t going anywhere, and fresh truffles aren’t about to start showing up in neighborhood supermarkets. However, when it comes to exceptional caviar, high-grade examples are widely available to consumers, and surprisingly, some are sourced right here in the United States.
In wild U.S. waters, three species of sturgeon—the paddlefish, hackleback, and California white—are in abundance. Conversely, in North Carolina, farm-raised osetra are producing caviar that even discerning palates have difficulty differentiating from its Russian cousin. Caviar produced by California white sturgeons, domestic osetras, and wild American hacklebacks is suitably briny and buttery. Make sure to keep it chilled and, when serving it, to use a stainless steel or mother-of-pearl spoon (a silver spoon will leave add an unpleasant metallic taste).
As for how you should enjoy it, we’ll leave that up to you. For our money, we’re keeping it simple, dropping dollops onto lightly buttered toast points or combining it with crème fraîche on warm blini. Regardless of how you serve it, make sure you pair it with a chilled glass of Champagne. You can’t go wrong.
Michel Emery is the vice president of sales for Catsmo Artisan Smokehouse, a New York–based purveyor of high-end food products.