"I think caviar suffers from its reputation," says Alexandre Petrossian, Vice President and Caviar Expert at the renowned Petrossian Caviar. "Whenever you go buy caviar anywhere you think you're going to have to take out a mortgage for it."
But this isn't necessarily the case. In fact, there are some amazing, delicious caviars available for less than $100 per ounce, a steal by caviar standards — Royal Transmontanus Caviar ($69 for 30 grams, or 1.06 oz), Royal Siberian Caviar ($91 for 30 grams), and Tsar Imperial Transmontanus Caviar ($94 per 30 grams), just to name a few.
Petrossian actually recommends starting with the lower-priced options if you're a caviar beginner, too, because if the price is higher, the caviar will have matured longer and will thereby have a stronger taste you should really acquire over time. He says the Transmontanus caviars in particular are good to start with because they have a very balanced taste — not too fishy, not too salty.
Royal Transmontanus Caviar comes from white sturgeon and is farmed in California. Its flavor is nutty and buttery but mild and almost flowery. These medium-sized eggs will be firm and will range in tone from light gray to dark gray because they are a higher grade of caviar, and the higher the grade, the lighter the color. The caviar will have spent just enough time maturing to have depth and a slightly strong, pronounced flavor.
Also in the Transmontanus family, Tsar Imperial Transmontanus Caviar will be an even lighter color than the Royal Transmontanus, ranging from light gray to dark hazel green, again because of its higher grade. It is also a medium-sized egg, light and firm, farmed from white sturgeon in California. The nutty, buttery flavor will be similar to the Royal Transmontanus, but because of its longer maturation, will have an even deeper flavor that will stay in your mouth longer.
Petrossian says the Royal Siberian Caviar, however, is an acquired taste. Farmed in Florida, it comes from Siberian sturgeon that was imported to the U.S. between seven and ten years ago. It has large eggs and a texture that's not as firm, with a flavor that strongly tastes of the ocean. "It's very, very nice but it has this distinctive caviar flavor that can be a little strong for some first-time users," Petrossian says. "It would be like trying alcohol for the first time and going directly for vodka."
If you are trying caviar for the first time, make sure to try it on its own, Petrossian says. You don't need all of the blinis and creme fraiche and other accoutrements: just enjoy it on its own. If it's your second, third, fourth time trying it, however, do whatever you like. Just remember to savor the experience. "Most of the luxury in our society, you buy, and you keep it for ages and years and years to come," Petrossian says. "You buy a beautiful bag, it's a bag you will enjoy for the next 10 years. You buy beautiful shoes, same thing. You buy a nice car, it's a car that you will enjoy for a long time. Caviar is one of those ephemeral luxuries where the only thing that you'll have left from this experience is the actual experience, it's the memory from it."