International quotas on wild sturgeon fishing mean that most of the world’s caviar is now farmed. As such, many assume that geography isn’t as important as it once was in determining the taste and quality of the delicacy. California’s Tsar Nicoulai Caviar is looking to change this perception, however, with a new line of private-batch caviars that restores a sense of culinary place, using special cures devised by area chefs.
“We’re already dealing with a local product,” Tsar Nicoulai vice president Otto Szilagyi says of the company’s caviar, which is harvested on a sustainable farm in Wilton, California, near Sacramento. “Having chefs add even more local elements makes the product hyperlocal—even more special.”
The first to run with the idea was Todd Knoll, executive chef of Sonoma County’s Jordan Vineyard & Winery. For his Jordan Chef’s Reserve Caviar, released in May, Knoll cures Tsar Nicoulai white sturgeon roe for eight weeks in a brine made with locally harvested saltwater and kombu kelp.
“The cold water and tidal zones of the Sonoma Coast were the inspiration and source of our kombu salt cure,” says Knoll, who has been making his own sea salts for years using water from destinations such as Mexico, Greece, France, and Hawaii. “The challenge was to capture, in a clean and gentle manner, the essence of the sea and coastline. We eventually found the right environment to dehydrate the seawater in the presence of kombu, while extracting the scent of the sea and precious umami from the sun-dried kelp.”
The result pops with the flavor of the Pacific and is included in the winery’s Champagne & Caviar Tasting experience. It can also be purchased on the Jordan website at $135 per ounce.
“The winemaker and chef share the same terroir and passion in expressing it,” Knoll says of the local emphasis. “Our shared goal is to capture a time and place in Sonoma.”