Glass journeys to Bordeaux to uncover the mysteries of caviar – and also enjoys a once-in-a-lifetime meal

CAVIAR is something one typically takes for granted – it’s there, at the Michelin-starred restaurants and Russian vodka bars, adding an indulgent and delicious flourish to clever dishes and canapés. We know what it is, of course, and most of us know that the fish from which it derives is sturgeon but, beyond that, we don’t tend to think much about it. That’s why we were so intrigued when invited to see how it’s done with Caviar Sturia  in Bordeaux this month. And, we must admit, the promise to try Sturia’s produce in many guises was extremely tempting as well.

When we arrived in Bordeaux it was early evening and we went quickly from the small airport to the centre of city. It’s hard to believe that Bordeaux is a city, really, because it has such small-town warmth. The flat-fronted buildings, all a faded sand colour, paint a pretty scene on quiet, winding streets. Just after I arrived, I walked a few of these to the nearest fromagerie where the kind proprietor offered me a generous slice of truffle-studded gouda to complement the local, fig-filled goats’ cheese I’d just bought.

Caviar Sturia's sturgeon farmCaviar Sturia’s sturgeon farm

That evening, we were to dine in the beautiful Le Grand Maison de Bernard Magrez. This opulent residence houses only six rooms atop its elegant restaurant. We passed through this to get to the pretty terrace, where we enjoyed champagne and some amuse-bouches in the evening sun. The entire meal that evening, including these, was produced by Pierre Gagnaire – the lauded chef has just taken over the kitchens at the restaurant. Every dish was to include one of Caviar Sturia’s variations, and the starting dishes were no exception with bites of perfectly crisp pork belly, daintily topped with a creamy black peak of caviar, among the selection.

 

Caviar brunchCaviar brunch

The main dishes were to be enjoyed inside, in a plush private dining room. Among them, a sous vide egg that leaked its sun-bright yolk at the slightest prick of a fork atop an umami-packed sturgeon and chicken terrine; delicate slices of raw fish and artichoke given buttery undertones by Prestige caviar; and tender, apple-red slices of seared beef topped with shimmering Oscietra caviar for the most lavish of finishes. The meal was punctuated by a wine-guessing game – each bottle more rare and obscure than the next – that rendered the entire experience utterly surreal. While we quickly identified the first as a riesling, the group was left bamboozled by a sea-aged white that had legs without being syrupy and the hazy colour of an unripe orange.

Sturgeon at Caviar Sturia's farmSturgeon at Caviar Sturia’s farm

After so enjoying each of Caviar Sturia’s variations in culinary context, it was only fitting that we visited their farm to see how it’s all done the following day. Sturgeons are native to the Caspian Sea and, once upon a time, fisherman would catch them wild for caviar. That’s  illegal now – due to a declining population – and caviar farmers have developed sustainable production methods. Sturia understands the importance of the sturgeon in the process, and treats each of its fish with the utmost respect. They are nurtured for up to nine years, kept in placid, man-made lakes designed for them.

When they are suitably matured, the caviar is taken and processed quickly by people who can only be described as masters of their craft. The fresh, luminous eggs are precisely weighed, measured and assessed for quality before being transferred to tins suiting their specific style and taste. It’s actually quite extraordinary to see how swift an undertaking that part of the journey is, considering the years of preparation that come before it.

Caviar Sturia's Prestige varietyCaviar Sturia’s Prestige variety of caviar

To finish our trip we toured Caviar Sturia’s beautiful headquarters and tasted once more each of the variations they offer – this time straight from the tin. Each has its own distinct flavour and feel; Origin is rich and mature, while Jasmin, for example, is delicate and buttery.

And there ended our trip. We drove quickly through a beautifully hot Bordeaux to the airport and within a matter of hours we were back in London. Our journey was short, but Caviar Sturia’s isn’t – for while it might take just moments to enjoy it, years and years of care and thought have gone into every spoonful.

by Becky Zanker

La Grande Maison Bernard Magrez, 10 rue Labottière, 33000 Bordeaux, France
Tel:+33(0)5 35 38 16 16
info@lgmbordeaux.com