Hashtag Life Visits Bordeaux for an inside look at the Luxurious and Exquisite world of Sturia Caviar
“Everyone comes to Bordeaux because they think it is always sunny here!” said Anne, the charming marketing director of luxury caviar brand Sturia, as she greeted us at the airport ahead of our whirlwind 36 hour window into the production and tasting of one of the finest caviars currently in the market. I wanted to joke “well everyone thinks it’s always raining in London” except, it is. Always. Raining. In London. So I smiled and chirped back with “oh well when can I move here?” and we piled into the car to set off en route to La Grande Maison, a stunning Bernard Margrez hotel, which on arrival presides more suitably as an intimate private mansion. Hosted for the night by Sturia, they had arranged a Caviar pairing dinner by Michelin Chef Pierre Gagnaire to introduce us to the world of Sturia’s Luxury Caviar. They say first impressions count, and it was clear this wouldn’t be too shabby an introduction at all.
We were seated in an intimate dining room at La Grande Maison, although the entire residence is intimate and quaint, after we’d enjoyed a glass of champagne and a fleeting moment with Chef Gagnaire outside on the property’s stunning terrace. We must have heard the phrase “shall we move inside now” fifteen times, as all the Londoner’s nonchalantly sipped away and pretended not to hear a thing. We finally gave in and moved inside, knowing that 24 hours later, the image of Champagne outdoors, amidst the refreshing scent and sight of blossom trees, in cool yet warm, crisp weather, would be long gone.
We were treated to a variety of dishes, exquisitely executed, and which aimed to show off the complimentary tastes and notes provoked by Sturia’s caviar with each dish – varying from Vintage Caviar paired with poached eggs, Prestige Caviar paired with a fish carpaccio, radish and artichoke, the Origin Caviar, paired with the signature of the caviar itself, sturgeon fish, and last but not least a seared beef fillet with Oscietra Caviar which was so rare and succulent against the cool textures of the rich Caviar that I can still taste it as I write. Pierre Gagnaire’s cuisine was so humble as it looked to highlight the specific suitability of each caviar with it’s partner dish, yet so rich as it brings out the most flavour and intricacy of each food, as only a truly qualitative caviar could. We spent the evening listening to the quite enchanting CEO Laurent Dulau recount the evolution of Sturia, and playing “guess the wine” as the excellent sommelier picked our pairings for the evening – if we were drinking reds, I’m convinced I would’ve won.
So what is the history of this unique and leading Caviar brand and what makes it so different?
Wild Caviar has been illegal for the better part of the last ten years, following a rapid decline in the density of the fish previously hunted for the production of wild Caviar once as high as 450 tons a year from the Caspian Sea. One man who spotted this decline and the following gap in the market for a much more sustainable form of production, Caviar farming, was Alan Jones, who together with Jean Boucher invested in the initiative, ploughing in along with a hearty investment, and much expertise, a tonne of patience, given the time it takes just one sturgeon to mature for Caviar production: 15 years in the wild, and anything between 7-9 years when farmed. As we toured the grounds we were shown the tranquil, calm, undisturbed waters the some 45,000 sturgeon are kept within. The sex of the fish is only determinable at 3 years of age, at which point they are able to place the male and female sturgeon together. A few years later at maturity, the female sturgeon is ready to have the caviar extracted, and the fish is killed humanely, bled and split open to reveal anything up to a kilo of Caviar – here the true quality of the Caviar is discerned. As we were guided through the process, I really came to understand just how much a labour of love, precision, sustenance and expertise Sturia’s ethos and provision is driven by. If you listen carefully, it is truly an inspirational story and hard-working, worthy brand.
All in all, Sturia care about how you discover, taste and enjoy your caviar. They have a variety of selections catering for everyone from the novice, or young taster, to the seasoned Caviar gastronomer; for first timers there is the mild-flavoured Primeur caviar, followed by this are the more mature Vintage and Oscietra caviars and more full-flavoured is the caviar of old, the Origin selection. Lastly are the complex and rare selections: the Grand Chef, Prestige, or Oscietra Grand Cru: these eggs are only identified at the point of extraction from the Sturgeon. The risk, the suspense, the excitement, and most of all, the true labour of love, entailed in this process allowed me to appreciate the true luxury this Caviar brand affords us, through it’s carefully crafted and time-tested selections.
We concluded the visit at the Sturia Head Offices with a final tasting of each signature Caviar; allowing us to appreciate the individual tastes, textures, ages and depths, undisturbed by any accompaniments. Of course, once we had tasted each rich and beautiful variety and discussed at length the differences between the feel of the ‘pop’ of the younger Caviars, versus the soft, solubility of the more mature Caviars; we were treated to a second feast of pairings; a curious mixture of refreshing and intriguing hors d’oeuvres or tapas style food pairings and dishes; ranging from little servings of langoustine accompanied by caviar, to tender, cold cuts of veal garnished with a more mature caviar blend, adding richness and complexity to even ambiences set for lighter fare. This confirmed the understanding which had long been brewing as I had travelled on this 36 hour whirlwind tour of the world of Sturia: much like the famous Harrods of London motto, where Sturia is now proudly stocked and served: Sturia Caviar is luxury which can, and is available to be enjoyed ‘by everyone, everywhere, at all times.’