by Fred McMillin
for December 30, 1999

 

Caviar, The Superstar

 

Prologue

My wife interviewing Dr. Keyvanfar.

My wife interviewing Dr. Keyvanfar.

From our interview in Teheran with the world's foremost authority on Iranian caviar, Professor A. Keyvanfar, who said.

Caviar is the most delicious and most expensive food ever known. [The legendary French chef Escoffier agreed, writing a century ago, "Caviar is undoubtedly the richest and most delicate of all hors d'oeuvers."]

Caviar is prepared from the eggs of a prehistoric fish, the sturgeon.

We know it was produced as early as the 3rd century B.C., when an ancient author known as Elan wrote, "From the Caspian Sea, they caught Elephant Fish," a sturgeon that weighed over 3,000 pounds. [By Roman times, the fish was highly prized, but only the poor ate the eggs. They were disliked by the elite.]


The Rest of the Story

The word "caviar" is from the Turkish KHAVIA, which refers specifically to eggs of the sturgeon. The great Alexander Dumas was so impressed that he actually visited the shores of the Caspian (as did my wife and I...see photo of her with the fishing nets.) The roe is lightly salted, and kept at low temperatures to preserve it.


Service

At the Hotel Iran in Rasht on the Caspian, the wonderfully-fresh caviar was served simply with inch-thick slices of coarse white bread, fresh butter, and wedges of lime. Stronger roe requires stronger toppings, including chopped onion, etc.

On the Caspian shore

On the Caspian shore.

Here's a suprise. You can freeze Iranian caviar once, let it thaw slowly for a day in the frig, and it will be fine. We flew from Teheran to London with about seven pounds of caviar frozen in thermos bottles for a program at London's International Wine & Food Society. My wife served the caviar with blini and sour cream. It drew raves. (Incidentally, the eggs break up if you try to re-freeze them.)


The Wine

Nothing better than a 100%-Chardonnay sparkler. Here's a good, affordable one. Pacific Echo Blanc de Blancs
(formerly Scharffenberger)
Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, CA
Winemaker—Tex Sawyer, U C.-Davis grad school degree in Food Science and Enology. This is his tenth year as chief winemaker.
Contacts—New York: Office of Matt Egan, (212) 888-7575, FAX (212) 888-7551, Winery—(707) 895-2065, FAX (707) 895-2758
Rating—The Wall Steet Journal said this Blancs was "head and shoulders above the competition." My panel gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in its price range...which is $24.


Postscript

In World War II, Field Marshal Montgomery found a large supply of caviar in a captured German officers' mess. He had it served that night to his troops. When he arrived one of his loyal soldiers held up a spoonful and said, "I'm sorry sir, but this jam tastes fishy."

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

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