Caviar Dreams

“Caviar tastes like a combination of an ocean’s spray, silk, and sushi,” says David E. Mills’ of how these edible sea pearls register on the palate. “Heaven,” exclaims the 36-year-old owner of Emperor’s Roe, the only black-owned caviar company in the country.

Mills was introduced to the high-end food trade at age 19 by his mentor, the late Louis Sobol, proprietor of New York City’s Caviarteria. He eventually became the restaurant’s general manager. In 2003, Mills opened Emperor’s Roe, offering clients a variety of fresh caviar, homemade gourmet creations, and the required tools and utensils.

The first year, the company saw sales of $240,000. Annual revenues have almost doubled since then, and Mills is currently expanding his Manhattan-based mail-order/Internet company with a boutique in Harlem. The new site should be open before the end of the year, and Mills promises that it will have an approachable atmosphere. “Caviar is a very intimidating product if you know nothing about it,” he admits. “We want to make people comfortable, where they can come in, ask questions, and get a general education.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the term caviar is only applicable to the eggs, or roe, extracted from the sturgeon species of fish and prepared by a special salting method. Sturgeon date back to prehistoric times. Its most revered species, beluga, is found only in the Caspian Sea and can live up to 100 years. Beluga average 13 feet in length and can weigh up to a ton. Fifteen percent of its weight is roe. It is also the most expensive of caviars.

Imported caviar typically sells for $200 or more per ounce. Other salt-cured fish eggs from species such as salmon or trout are less expensive.

A misconception most people have about caviar is that “it’s beyond their pockets,” explains Mills. “But it’s an everyday luxury attainable for everyone.”

“Caviar is an acquired taste,” he adds, “but it’s one that’s easy to acquire.”

For more information on Emperor’s Roe, visit www.emperors or call 866-5-CAVIAR.

A bite-sized breakdown of the four basic types of caviar
Tips for purchasing, serving, and presenting caviar

  • Beluga: Superior in quality; comes from the largest of sturgeons and takes the longest time to develop (around 18 years). It has the largest grain and sells for $200 and higher per ounce.
  • Oscetra (also osetra and ossetra): Comes from the second largest sturgeon; takes between eight and 12 years to develop; usually has a light to dark brown color and a nutty taste. It sells for between $55 and $65 per ounce, but some varieties can be comparable to beluga in cost. An ounce per person for a sit-down gathering is the general rule of thumb. For a cocktail party or tasting, half an ounce is appropriate. Serve caviar on warm blini with optional crème fraiche. Toast points can also be used with sweet butter. To keep caviar from absorbing a slight metallic taste from metal servers and utensils, present it on glass, shell, or bone. Utensils can be made of mother-of-pearl, bone, enamel, or