With Valentine's Day around the corner, it's okay to ditch the Champagne and chocolate pairings (but if you decide to go that route, read our pairing guide here). Instead, go the less traveled but more adventurous vodka-and-caviar route.
Equally, if not more, indulgent, caviar and vodka are the peanut butter and jelly of luxury pairings. If you have a significant other, surprise them with this sensory delight. And, if you find yourself single, revel in your solitude and treat yourself. In L.A., your go-to source for caviar is going to be Petrossian in Beverly Hills, California's only restaurant and boutique run by the famed Paris caviar house, where General Manager Christopher Klapp is more than happy to take neophytes through an educational tasting of the various types of caviar.
Whether you serve a flight of caviar and vodka or simply pair one type of these "ocean pearls" with a bottle of your favorite vodka, your holiday is guaranteed to make even Cupid jealous.
The sturgeon — the species of fish whose eggs become what we call caviar — has been around for 200 million years and is native only to the northern hemisphere. In captivity, a sturgeon can take between six and 28 years to raise. At Petrossian, prices for the fish's precious eggs range from about $50 for an ounce of Transmontanus to about $400 for the Special Reserve Ossetra.
Luckily, you can purchase a mini-sphere of Transmontanus for about $30, which is enough as an appetizer serving for two. There's also the earthy, mineral-forward Chataluga Prestige, from a close cousin to the sturgeon, the paddlefish.
Once, the only caviar worth eating was sourced from the Caspian and Black seas.Today, with our evolving food technologies, caviar is farm-raised all over the world, so the proper techniques — aka the water in which the fish live, the foods they eat — are more important than where they come from.
Likewise, Klapp notes, "caviar changes as vintages change." Just like wine, which can change from bottle to bottle, so too can caviar vary from tin to tin. Ironically, some of the best all-around caviar today (made by Petrossian) is farm-raised in California. Other sources include China (the Chinese consulted directly with Petrossian to learn how they wanted their fish tended) and Israel.
Tasting the caviar is its own sensory experience. First, use a non-metal spoon, as metal will affect the flavor. Place the caviar beads on your tongue and let them rest there. Slowly breathe in and let the air roll across your palate, then pop the beads and let their flavors explode in your mouth.
Depending on the style you have chosen, the flavors can range from nutty and buttery (Transmontanus) to softly salty with hints of fresh sea air (Tsar Imperial Siberian). Textures go from velvety to crisp; some caviar almost seems to melt on the tongue, while other varieties literally pop in the mouth, releasing their juice.
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When pairing caviar and vodka, the caviar should be the spotlight, but that doesn't mean you can't choose a vodka you love. Old-world, unfiltered versions are the best in terms of mouth feel and balance. Some of Klapp's favorites include Leopold Silver Tree Small Batch Vodka, Jean Marc XO and Jewel of Russia Ultra.
Whatever vodka you choose, whatever caviar you can afford, the experience itself is what matters.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book Gin: A Global History. Her book The 12 Bottle Bar, co-written with David Solmonson, was released July 29. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.