Before you can buy caviar online, or anywhere, you need to know a little about caviar.
Otherwise, when you browse caviar houses you won't understand what the terms mean or why the huge range of caviar prices. And you won't have a clue about what you want to try first, how much to buy, or how to serve it.
Step One: Find a Source
1. One of the best ways to find a good caviar house or brand is to ask your gourmet friends for references. Local chefs and gourmet magazines, because they are non-resellers, are excellent, unbiased sources of information as well.
2. Search for 'caviar' online, browse inventory and compare prices. A long-established company with a nice, informative web site is a good sign. You can get a pretty good feel for caviar houses that way. Once you've narrowed the field, email any questions you have. A quick, friendly answer is another good gauge. And make sure they offer a full money-back or product replacement guarantee.
3. When possible, read any consumer reviews you find online. Some large shopping sites rate both stores and individual products.
Step Two: Make a Test Purchase
Submit a small order and see how it goes. Did you get what you ordered? How's the quality? The taste? Fresh caviar is always shipped "overnight" in cold, insulated containers. Did yours arrive on time and cold? Yes to all? Then you can confidently place that large order for your party.
Note: Some suggest a final step, that you return your order to see how the company handles it. Never do that unless something is wrong with the product; it's grossly inconsiderate of a person's livelihood.
The same caviar buying principles apply to shopping for caviar locally as they do online. Ask a friend or local merchant for a recommendation, or consult the yellow pages for 'gourmet foods.' Once in the store, you can tell a lot just by looking.
Most often, Beluga Caviar is packaged in a blue tin or jar, Osetra in yellow, and Sevruga in red. The term "malossol" is prominent, if that is how it was processed. So just at a glance you can see that you are getting, say, Malossol Sevruga Caviar. A look at the label will tell you its color classification, and more, if you're interested.
Pasteurized caviar will be on the shelf, but fresh caviar should be specially refrigerated. It's highly perishable, so keep it cold on the way home, too, and DO consult the label for the expiration date.
Questions? Good. Just ask the sales personnel.
That's one of the nice things about buying locally. But if your retailer
is unable or unwilling to answer your questions, it could be that he is
also not very interested in offering a quality product or service. It's
Whether you buy caviar online or off, beware of any caviar prices substantially below others' prices. It may be black market caviar that is fished illegally, transported circuitously to avoid detection, and processed sloppily. Naturally, the quality suffers. Check the label. If there is no lab date or expiration date for fresh caviar, it may be black market caviar.
Many caviar houses sell their caviar wholesale to restaurants, delis, markets, cruise lines, caterers, etc. But for consumers in general, caviar is just not a 'large lot' kind of item. Because it's perishable and best eaten very fresh, you should purchase only as much as you need for immediate use and consume it as soon as possible.
Have you decided whether to buy caviar online or from your local merchant? No caviar dealer carries everything, so you will perhaps do both as you experience more and more of the many varieties and types of caviar.