Caviar is sold almost year-round, but being a bit of an extravagance, it has come to signify holiday time. The combination of buttery, sea-spray flavors and creamy, pop-in-your mouth texture is what makes caviar so sought-after. Though the deep, cold waters of the Caspian Sea have long been the world’s primary source, Caspian Sea caviar is becoming increasingly rare and expensive. Meanwhile, American waters produce both farmed and wild caviar that’s quite good. Look for fresh caviar (always sold in a refrigerator case); avoid the pasteurized, shelf-stabilized, unchilled stuff, which is overly salty (and likely the reason some say they don’t like caviar). Beluga, osetra, and sevruga refer to the type of sturgeon from which the eggs come, beluga being the rarest and most expensive (though not necessarily the tastiest). Prices range widely, from about $50 for two ounces of wild American caviar to over $200 an ounce for wild Caspian beluga.
When serving, use a glass, bone, or mother-of-pearl spoon ($8 and up in gourmet shops). Even a plastic spoon is preferable to metal, which reacts with the caviar to impart metallic flavors.
Good caviar needs no embellishment and is best served simply: It’s lovely on white toast with a glass of crisp, tart sparkling wine.