“He was a bold man who ate the first oyster.”
It is anybody’s guess exactly many times we have all heard that famous quote from Jonathan Swift. I think another person who deserves a bit of credit for boldness is the person who looked inside a dead sturgeon and, upon seeing all those eggs, thought, “Yum! This looks delicious!”
After the completion of our tour of Petrolea Villa, we went upstairs to the Baku Nobel Oil Club for a champagne and caviar tasting. It’s funny how those two go together. Just like peanut butter and jelly. Like Bonnie and Clyde, socks and shoes, bacon and eggs. Of course, we were served Azerbaijani champagne and Azerbaijani caviar. I will be honest; I was skeptical of both. The champagne was too sweet for my taste, but the caviar was a nice surprise. Nice in that I got it down; I was terribly afraid that it would make a U-turn and come back. Sorry to be gross, but in my experience, the stuff has been nothing short of disgusting. Salty. Fishy. Cat foodie.
But it has been great fun to learn about the stuff even if I will probably never buy a jar. Traditionally, caviar has been defined as the roe from the sturgeon of the cold waters of the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Beluga caviar is probably the most highly prized; the costliest, rarest comes from the Caspian Sea, which is bordered by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Russia, and Azerbaijan. Beluga caviar is pea-sized. We have never tried that type which is probably good. Just thinking about it gives me the creeps. I can’t image the feeling of popping all those eggs with my teeth and don’t plan to try it. There is also a type of caviar that comes from albino sturgeons and, as you can imagine, the price for it is astronomical. The sturgeon live long lives, living an average of 50-60 years; some live much longer. They are late to mature and don’t spawn until they are about 15-20 years old. Even then, they don’t spawn every year because conditions must be right for spawning to occur. But when they do, it’s epic. A single female can release 100,000 to 3 million eggs. The roe can account for twenty five percent of the total body weight of the fish. U-Tube has videos of the harvesting of the sturgeon roe and it is unbelievable what can come from just one female.
The real shocker for us was to learn that the US led the world in caviar production in the nineteenth century. By the end of the century, the party was over due to overfishing, habitat destruction, and the other usual reasons. That was when Russia stepped up to take the lead as the largest producer. There are ongoing programs to help the sturgeon population rebound, but not every country keeps up its end of the bargain and poaching is a never ending problem. All this has led to less production worldwide which, of course, runs up the price.
Since we brought up the Caspian Sea, I will give you some interesting facts about that body of water. First of all, it is the world’s largest lake. It is called a sea because it is salty even though it has no outlet to an ocean. It could be considered brackish because it is only about a third as salty as the ocean. It is shallow on the northern end and very deep on its southern end, reaching a depth of some 3,000 feet on that end. It’s actually about eighty nine feet below sea level and is five times bigger than Lake Superior in surface area. It holds three and a half times as much water as all the Great Lakes combined. The Caspian Sea is a beautiful body of water and we were excited to see it. The countries that rim it are indeed fortunate to be able to enjoy all the advantages it gives them.