This image and text is courtesy of Caviar House & Prunier and the chairman Peter G Rebeiz and his 3-part documentary ‘Taste of Caviar’.
Part 1 of 3. The Tsar’s Caviar
Click here for Part 2 of 3. Uncle Lenin’s Beluga
Caviar - some might look upon it as just food, but for centuries others have been trying to analyze its magic and there are those who refuse to live without it.
We do not feast on caviar to dissuade our hunger; we consume it to be transported into another dimension - a world of the finer traditions and an experience of intense moments. Caviar is a passionate love affair with life, culture and prominence. It is a dinner table’s poetry, an elixir of love and the creator of romance.
For hundreds of years caviar was protected by the tsars of Russia and shahs of Iran. It aroused just about everyone in its presence. How did this enchantment come about? What made these seemingly simple fish eggs become the symbol of affluence, a certificate of sophistication and the undisputed king of food for nearly 4 centuries?
Although we know little about the consumption of sturgeon and caviar before the days of imperial Russia’s abundant harvest of the great Volga River, caviar is mentioned in the text by Herodote dating from the 5ht century BC. It is praised by the deities Sopratos and Pathos as a sophisticated meal.
Later on it seems that in the imperial city of Constantinople, middle-ages Europe’s largest city during the Byzantine Empire, sturgeon and caviar were considered out of the ordinary entities that inspired the poets and scholars of the day. Some even claim that the word ‘caviar’ originated from the Turkish ‘khaviare’ - literally - “cake of power”.
In Russia the ancient Orthodox Church religion prescribed lengthy fast periods during which both meat and dairy products were forbidden. In 1280 the head of the orthodox clergy had stated that during fasting one should only consume insipid food like salted granular caviar. This triggered a considerable increase in sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea but would not cease for the next 700 years.
Caviar, which is those days had the price tag similar to butter, became popular with Russians from all social ranks and backgrounds
Peter I, Russia’s visionary tsar, who became known as Peter the Great, took Russia out of the middle ages and into modern prosperity. In 1695 he created the first imperial office for the exclusive harvest and exports of caviar. All caviar commerce was to be under the exclusive authority of the tsar.
Russian caviar had received its first letter of noblesse and the sturgeon had become and imperial fish. As the ultimate token of respect to the majestic sturgeon - the tsar ordered all church bells silent along the Volga River during caviar harvesting.