A Caviar Guide


When you call something “caviar,” the real deal is supposed to be from sturgeon; other fish eggs, we call “roe.” Most caviar is farmed, particularly the osetra, the American transmontanus, and the Siberian baerii. When sturgeon at the farms are pregnant, they’ll core the fish to see what stage the eggs are in. When the fish are ready, they’ll kill them, cut them open, take out the sac of eggs, remove the membrane, and rinse them in a sieve. Then they’ll salt the eggs with a certain percentage of salt, and place them in tins. One fish may have a couple of original tins, which we call OTs, that are typically 1.8 kilos—and then they’ll put any extra in a one-kilo tin, or maybe a 500-gram tin. We only buy the big tins, because we repack it into smaller tins ourselves.

But if you eat caviar straightaway, it doesn’t taste like anything. So the caviar needs to sit in the tins, where it cures in the salt for a couple of months. Caviar is meant to age—that’s how you’ll get the more interesting flavors, the ones characteristic of caviar.

All of our caviar is malossol, which is a Russian word that means “little salt.” It’s fresh, not pasteurized, so it’s not shelf-stable. It can be kept in our caviar fridge, which is between 26 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit, for a while. But a normal fridge is 40 degrees, so we don’t recommend keeping it in there for more than two weeks. People will call and say, “I got this tin from a friend six months ago, and I just found it in the back of the fridge…” No. But also caviar that you forgot about that’s three weeks or a month old, you can open it and look at it. Bad caviar will let you know it’s bad caviar. It’s not shy.


One of the big factors in caviar’s price is the amount of time it takes for a species of fish to produce eggs. Consider starting a business and putting millions and millions and millions into something that’s not going to produce anything for seven to ten years. And what if something happens to the fish? Then you’re starting from zero.

Paddlefish and hackleback, which are the cheaper kinds of caviar, come from the Tennessee River Valley. They’re wild and more accessible, but we’ll see small fluctuations in prices due to weather or the season. Farms will work out their pricing based off of their production and the type of caviar. They’re not necessarily looking at a world market—they’re coming at it from a place of, Ours is the best. Which is why we have to go out there and taste as much as possible.


Within one type of caviar—osetra, for example—there are thousands of different tins, and with those tins comes lots of variation. Acipenser gueldenstaedtii is the technical name of the species of sturgeon, but even within that type the caviar could be very light in color or dark, the eggs can be different sizes, and the taste can vary quite a bit. At Russ & Daughters, we go out and taste all of the caviar we can on the market. We taste tin by tin—we’ll open, like, fifty tins—and select only the ones we want.

When we’re tasting through the tins of caviar, we’re looking for three things: visual appeal, flavor appeal, and textural appeal. The ideal texture is when the eggs are a little firm, but also break easily when you press them against the roof of your mouth. They’ll melt, but you can also feel the individual eggs—roll them around. But there are lots of different factors at play; sometimes, a visually appealing caviar will outweigh a not-perfect texture. Or the flavor is good, but the caviar is darker than it should be. They vary a lot, and you go back to a place where the caviar was amazing the month before and it’s different. It’s really more like wine than anything else.

We have descriptions of caviar that we use—especially when we’re selling it at the store or at the restaurant—but it’s difficult, because each fish is different. So we say “like” and “usually,” because although those are the defining characteristics, but they’re not always consistent. It’s hard to say with conviction what something is exactly like; tin to tin, fish to fish, the caviar is different.

The perfect caviar—it’s a little tough to verbalize, but I think the best way to describe it is the sea kissing your tongue. There’s a smooth cleanness, but with salinity—almost the taste of the sea, but not strong-flavored, and not too mild. The perfect bite is unmatchable, and very difficult to explain, because it’s not one particular flavor or type. It’s the overall experience.




Paddlefish is not actually a sturgeon—it’s a cousin to a sturgeon—but the eggs are very sturgeon-like, and it’s the lowest price point. It’s what we serve on eggs here; it’s a stronger flavor, with a little more salinity. Other types of caviar are milder in flavor, and they’ll get lost in the other flavors of the food.

Retail price (this and all below prices are from Russ & Daughters Shop): $1.00 /gram (12 eggs)
Species name: Polyodon spathula
Farmed or Wild: Wild



Hackleback caviar is a little more expensive than paddlefish, but it’s still quite a bit less than the others. It’s a similar size to the paddlefish but a bit milder in flavor, and a darker egg. It’s a nice starter caviar, a cheaper version that’s still enjoyable in the same way that the expensive ones are.

Retail price: $1.40/gram
Species name: Scaphirhynchus platorynchus
Farmed or Wild: Wild

American Transmontanus


American transmontanus, or white sturgeon, is one of the first caviar-producing fish to be farmed. It’s a bit of a larger egg, and it can be both dark, as it is here, or lighter, like the Siberian and osetra. We often describe it as a nuttier-flavored caviar.

Retail price: $2.40/gram
Species name: Acipenser transmontanus
Farmed or Wild: Farmed


Siberian Baerii

The Siberian caviar is a little bit milder and sometimes sweeter than the American transmontanus. It tends to be a smaller egg, but, as you can see here, these eggs look like they’re bigger!

Retail price: $2.40 /gram
Species name: Acipenser baerii
Farmed or Wild: Farmed


Osetra Gueldenstaedtii

Osetra is the most expensive kind of caviar that we sell at Russ & Daughters. It tends to be lighter in color and is the largest egg of the bunch. The species takes longer than any of the other fish to produce eggs.

Retail price: $4/gram
Species name: Acipenser gueldenstaedtii
Farmed or Wild: Farmed



Salmon Roe

Salmon roe is quite a bit of a larger egg, with a stronger flavor. It’s good for latkes, or on a blini with crème fraîche. It’s a lower-cost, totally acceptable alternative to the more expensive caviars.

Retail price: $0.20 /gram
Farmed or Wild: Wild 


Trout Roe

Trout roe is a smaller, firmer egg that’s quite a bit milder than salmon roe. It’s more refined than salmon roe, and you can have a whole caviar experience—blinis, crème fraîche, etc.—for just $10.

Retail price: $0.28 /gram
Farmed or Wild: Farmed


When you eat caviar, you’re supposed to use mother-of-pearl spoons or bone spoons, since metal reacts with caviar. It’s a little strange, though, because they’re in metal tins, but the tins are coated. Still, the edges of the tins will get a little funk to them, so when you go to eat a tin you should sort of stir it up and get the airflow going so it’s not funky and tinny.

The best thing you can drink with caviar is vodka. It’s the cleanest alcohol, and is a strong spirit—after your first bite, the vodka will clean your palate, and the next bite will be like that first experience again. Champagne, of course, goes perfectly well too; but you want something very light. It shouldn’t be adding any new flavors.

I know people like to have chopped eggs and chives and onions and all the other accouterments—which are great, and make caviar-eating more of a production. But I think caviar is best enjoyed all by itself on a spoon, or, if you don’t have a spoon, a blini. Maybe a bit of crème fraîche. But we believe the pure essence of caviar is simple: get a spoonful, put it in your mouth. Old school Russians would make blinis that are the size of a dinner plate and pile it high with caviar—which, to be honest, is my favorite way to eat it. I don’t sit down and eat caviar so much, but for New Year’s, I’ll usually have a couple of tins. I make soft scrambled eggs with caviar, and then I make a “caviar burrito”: take a big blini, put a bunch of caviar in it, and roll it up.

But you should enjoy caviar however you’d like. We have people come in to the store and get caviar on a bagel, like a caviar sandwich. And a couple weeks ago, customers came in and put a tin of paddlefish caviar—which is the stronger-flavor caviar—on ice cream. I think they got a nice bottle of Champagne, and then, to finish their meal, they got a scoop of ice cream with caviar on top.