Ossetra is one of the most prized and sought-after caviars in the world and can only be obtained from the Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii). Compared to the more well-known Beluga sturgeon (Huso huso), the Russian sturgeon is small and the flesh has a firmer texture. The word ossetra comes from the Russian word осетра, which means “of sturgeon”. (The Russian word for sturgeon is осётр.)
Ossetra caviars are mild with a buttery flavour that is easy to love. The exact taste and texture can vary somewhat between the different farms, so sampling a few different ones can be required to find your favourite. Ossetra is typically cured with salt and stored in small glass jars.
What does ossetra caviars look like?
Ossetra caviar comes in several different hues, from deep brown to golden. Generally speaking, lighter varieties and golden ossetra tend to be more desirable since they have the richest flavour. Light ossetra can only be produced by very old Russian sturgeons.
Ossetra is traditionally served on blinis and accompanied by smetana. Blini is a type of thin pancakes popular in Russian-speaking regions. Before the introduction of Christianity, the early East Slavic people considered the round blini a symbol of the sun, and ate blini in early spring to honor the return of the sun after the dark winter season. Smetana is a type of sour cream common in Central and Eastern Europe, where it is made by souring heavy cream. The heaviest type of commerically available smetana has a milkfat content of 36 percent.
Where is it produced?
The native range for the Russian sturgeon is parts of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, but ossetra is nowadays available from a few other parts of the world as well since this fish can be farm raised.
The Russian sturgeon is critically endangered in parts of its native range, and many consumers are therefore opting for caviar from farm raised sturgeons instead of the wild produce. Farms for Russian sturgeon are located both within its native range and outside.
The Russian sturgeon is native to the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Azov Sea – and to the river systems that drain into these seas. In addition to Russia, it is found wild in Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, the Ukraine, Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Sexually mature individuals move up-river in April, May and June to spawn.