Here’s a “Behind the Scenes” look at how we pack the caviar at Browne Trading. Every type of Browne Trading caviar is individually selected and graded to insure the satisfaction of our customers. Caviar is handled directly, packed by hand, and stored at our Portland caviar facility by our Caviar Director, Richard Hall, under the supervision of our owner Rod Browne Mitchell.
As the market for wild Caspian caviar became more and more restrictive due to the endangerment of overfishing of caviar producing sturgeon, we were among the first in the U.S. who turned to resourcing farm raised caviar from around the World. Browne now sources the best farm raised caviar produced today, harvested as close as Florida and as far away as Israel. Our renowned caviars can be found in the nation’s elite restaurants and through such distributors of distinction as Williams Sonoma, Dean & Deluca, and Balducci’s.
Rich Hall recently gave me access to photograph the process of how our caviar is received, graded, and packaged here at Browne Trading Company. This particular caviar is the Caviar Galilee “Royal Grade” from Israel – which had recently arrived at our Facility.
THE ORIGINAL TIN
Most caviar producers package their caviar in a 1.8 kilo tin – held shut by a large band. We call these the “Original Tin” (or in our slang, the “OT”). We purchase these directly from caviar harvesters from the U.S. and around the world. By directly purchasing from the harvesters, we are guaranteed superior product freshness along with complete control of what we receive. When opening these tins, Rich is having the first look at an “unadulterated” shipment first exposed to air since it was packed at harvest. This is his first opportunity to evaluate its quality.
GRADING THE CAVIAR
Each original tin holds the eggs of an individual sturgeon. Caviar should never be “blended” or mixed from different fish. With the advent of aquaculture, a harvest group of caviar-bearing sturgeon are almost always of the same age, size, and stock – and are raised in the same conditions (water quality, temperature, etc.) and on the same diet, biology can still play a part and make for a unique “batch” per individual fish. Part of the initial grading process is to evaluate the quality and consistency of the original delivery. Rich will factor into account the size of the caviar grains (medium to large size) along with the color of the eggs, from light to dark.
TASTING THE CAVIAR
Rich has over 29 years in the caviar business, and over the course of his career has developed a master caviar palate. Part of his job is to taste test the caviar (an enviable part of his job). By tasting the product, Rich is evaluating multiple factors – foremost the richness of flavor. Caviar – especially that of the osetra sturgeon – should have a fresh, almost nutty flavor – and should be briny without being powerfully salty (“malossol” – Russian for “little salt” – is a common term used and is often on the caviar label itself.) The pleasing flavor needs to equally offset by a firmness of egg texture – or the “pop” on the roof of the mouth – that is a traditional benchmark of superior caviar. Finally, the finish is evaluated on the palate – it should be creamy and flavorful, not bitter or “fishy”. All these factors play into Rich’s assessment of the quality grade assigned to the caviar. In this particular case, the Caviar Galilee Osetra is graded as “Royal”: superior size, flavor and color:
PREPARING THE BROWNE TRADING TINS FOR PACKING
You should be able to trace the container of caviar you have by a “lot number” which refers back to the supplier’s legal documentation. This is also required by the FDA in case of any food related contamination or recall. If you don’t have a lot number, you should not be serving the caviar. Every importer is required by Federal law to have a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Permit to guarantee the sturgeon species, a “Certificate of Origin” that guarantees where the caviar was harvested, and a “Labeling Report” that shows the harvest date. As a discerning customer you should feel free to ask for these documents. Beware if a supplier or dealer cannot produce these documents or finds an excuse to not give you this information.
All caviar must also have a “Best Consumed By” date as would any perishable fresh fish or packaged food. This is placed on the container along with the lot number. After all, why would you purchase premium “fresh caviar” without evidence of when/where it was harvested, packaged, or subject to expiration?
Here, Rich applies these labels to the tins in preparation of caviar packing.
WEIGHING AND PACKING CAVIAR
Once the caviar jars – or in this case, our custom-produced caviar tins – are ready, Rich will prepare the scales to pack the graded caviar directly from the OT into our packaging. He will “zero out” the weight of the tin so that the caviar inside will bear the net weight appropriate to the container. All imported caviar is weighed and sold in grams (as in this case) while domestically-produced caviar is sold in ounces. This is an easy distinction to keep in mind when ordering caviar from Browne Trading Co. (you can view a simple conversion chart here).
Using a caviar spatula, Rich delicately hand packs each tin, so as not to rupture the delicate “eggs”.
THE FINISHING TOUCHES
Once the caviar is packed to the exact weight, the Browne Trading labeled lid is affixed.
Air is caviar’s number one enemy. Below, Rich takes the newly packaged tin and puts it into our vacuum sealer. It applies negative 13 pounds per square inch, sealing the tin and removing all extraneous air. Properly refrigerated and left unopened to keep the integrity of the vacuum intact, it will now remain optimum for well over 4-6 weeks – once opened, however, only up to 3 days. Again, you should always refer to the expiration date for best consumed by time on the bottom of the tin.
FINAL PRODUCT, READY FOR SALE
Now sealed, the caviar bears our custom label, which are printed on water-resistant foil. It is important to note that all our Browne Trading caviar labels always show the net weight of the caviar, the ingredients and species of fish, and the country of origin the caviar was produced in. Beware when purchasing caviar from other sources that do not readily print this information: you may not be holding what you think you really purchased if dealing with a less than scrupulous caviar purveyor.
At Browne Trading, we take great pride in our caviar quality, custom packaging and labeling, compliance and traceability of each and every caviar line we carry. We think that our expertise makes our products among the best available anywhere in the world. If you are looking to experience these caviars, they are available for Retail Sale on our online store or for Wholesale Purchase via inquiry.
~Nick Branchina, Director of Marketing