Caviar Q&A With Armen Petrossian

Petrossian's President and CEO, Armen Petrossian, shares his favorite caviar memories, thoughts on sustainable farming, and how to spot good (and bad) caviar.  


You've had a lot of experience with caviar; is there any one caviar moment that was particularly memorable?

We introduced the new presentation "Eggxiting" during the boat show in Cannes two years ago, and for that occasion we imagined a small 'buoy' like the one used by children when they learn how to swim, and we had an event in the evening.

A wealthy customer approached me and asked, "Can you give me an idea to impress a hundred of my guests next week?" I answered, "Do you have a swimming pool?" He was surprised and said, "Of course, why this question?"

I told him to look at the caviar presentation and these small buoys, and suggested he fill the surface of his swimming pool with these buoys – we'd put caviar in some, candles in others, and vodka shot glasses in the rest so that the guests could take the cocktails from the water – this idea totally seduced the host. He loved it and said "let's do it!" That was a memorable evening party.


Any particularly memorable caviar meals?

The question from a certain Mr. X was, "How to prepare the most memorable dinner for a very famous personality?" I suggested he do a complete caviar meal. We presented three caviars from different fish, Ossetra guldenstadtiAlverta caviar, and Baeri caviar — all of them from our special reserves, all three on caviar presentoirs. Each person had three 125 grams servings of caviar, 375 grams per person! After, we served a Dover sole filet covered with a layer of golden color caviar. Then a caviar sorbet was prepared. To finish, we had an enormous chocolate egg, caviar-shaped, filled with ice cream, and hot chocolate served on the side.

As for another, imagine that you are like Robinson Crusoe, alone with the love of your life, on a deserted island, with your boat not very far off. The sunset arrives and you have a dinner set on the beach: only a kilo of caviar, two gold spoons and a magnum of champagne. That is exactly what I did for my wife in the Seychelles Islands for our 10-year anniversary. I wish everyone had the chance to do the same!


At what age is it appropriate for a child to first taste caviar? Did you like it when you were younger, or do you think it's a taste that is acquired with age?

I had my first spoonful at the age of six months. My two sons had their first experience at the same age. A lot of babies have some grains given to them very young, and I can tell you children love caviar. It's never too soon to learn good things. There is a reason. Caviar, of the best quality, for sure, has a very pure taste, and children like this taste.

If they have their first experience when they are teenagers it is more risky, mostly because they will reject everything their parents like. So I'll give you some advice. Leave the caviar tin in the refrigerator and tell them that they cannot touch it — that it is for you. Also, show them the caviar and how to open and close the tin and they will surely disobey and taste the caviar. The more you taste caviar the more you like it.


You've said that fish farming worldwide has dramatically increased over the past decade, lowering the price of caviar. Is the quality is the same?

There is always Caviar and caviar. Caviar is not a simple item to make. There is the first step that consists of taking the roe, cleaning it with water, salting it, and putting it in the traditional two-kilogram tins. These tins are the raw material for us, like grape juice is the first step of making wine. Then there is the second step, which is our specialty. This consists of selecting the caviar, following the maturation process, which is done during the entire life of the tins. Once we decide that the aromas have developed enough, the caviar is ready for Petrossian.

We select caviar the same way the Champagne companies do. From the same grapes, they will make different levels of quality like Dom Pérignon, vintage or basic. It's not because you have a very good grape juice that you are capable to create a "Chateau Petrus." The quality of caviar depends on a lot of factors. If one is missing, the whole process is ruined. The perfume of the caviar, the texture, the presentation, the taste, they're all important and make all the difference.


Caviar is and always has been a high-end product, but do you think that a lower price will make it available to more people?

Caviar is not cheap, just less expensive — more affordable. The restrictions on wild caviar made the price very high. The actual progress in the production and the number of farms all over the world created more offerings. However, one should also remember that caviar is not raised, sturgeons are, and that this process takes over ten years. This is the reason why caviar will never be an inexpensive product. Plus, the fact that to create good caviar requires a lot of work and enormous specialized knowledge. Now, if the dream becomes affordable, then it will drive caviar lovers back to caviar — those who've stopped their consumption because of higher prices.


Is fish farming really better for the environment?

As the fish are not taken from their wild environment, the natural resources are preserved. Fish farming is improving a lot, because of the cleaning process of the water, the density of fish in the raceways, and the better use of feeding techniques in general. All of this is improving the impact on the environment. The total yield for sturgeon farming is very small — only 130 tons of caviar a year — and a maturing process of ten years will limit the growth. When compared with the whole industry of fish farming, sturgeon farming is very marginal. 


The Caspian Sea, famous for wild sturgeon, is supposedly going to be used for farming fish. Will this occur in the sea? What happens if fish escape into the wild?

First, the Russians have been releasing baby sturgeons since 1930, and thanks to this policy they have preserved the sturgeon in the Caspian for nearly 70 years. That's also how we could start the farming process. Practically everywhere natural fish were drastically reduced for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with caviar. If the same fingerling that were used before to restock the Caspian Sea are used in these sea farms, the escape will not be more of a problem than before. But actually the farm plans are done in raceways on land on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and the water is taken from the sea, as opposed to other farms taking the water from the spring waters. So that will limit the eventual risks, if any.


Why is the Caspian Sea so famous for sturgeon?

For 250 years the Caspian Sea has been the natural place for growing sturgeons. And the caviar industry developed there before any other places in the world.


How can you detect false wild caviar, or poor quality caviar?

Would you buy the wedding present of your daughter in the flea market, or on the net? Certainly not. You will go to a reliable source, a reputable company. It is the same with caviar. You go to a well-known specialist and let him or her guide you for your party. False balls called "caviar" are easy to spot. You put an egg on a sheet of paper and press. If there is no juice, only paste, then you know this is not caviar.

For expired roe, you can take some grains on your tongue and see if it creates an effect like small needles. If so, then your product is no good. Use your nose and smell the caviar. It should not have a strong smell like herring for example. A light, agreeable smell is what you should have. If you tilt the tin and the caviar is very oily, like a heavy soup, then this is a bad sign. Note that a little oil is normal. And if the grain is hard, with practically no juice, that's also not good.


How should your top line of caviars be eaten?

Caviar should be eater with a spoon, nothing else (mother-of-pearl, of course), with some bread, toast, or blinis to clean the taste after each spoonful, with no caviar on it, no accoutrements (eggs, onions, etc.) whatsoever. Caviar nude by itself — only good caviar can be eaten that way.


Any wine pairing recommendations?

Vodka or champagne are the best.


What kind of food besides caviar do you like to eat at home?

My wife and I like to do fine cooking, fish preparations are my favorite. But my friends often prefer when I serve them the caviar and our different salmons, or smoked fishes. So the first time it's caviar, then it's a surprise. For ourselves we often taste the new products, or are on the diet because we tasted too much during the day. 


Click here to see the Caviar Sturgeon Burger with Caviar Crème Fraiche recipe.

Click for Petrossian's Seared Wild Sturgeon with Champagne Beurre Blanc recipe.