Tell us about the history of caviar…
The mystique and luxury of caviar dates back to the 4th Century B.C. In records, the Greek philosopher Aristotle described this delicacy as the eggs of the sturgeon, and heralded it into banquets amongst trumpets and flowers.
However, it was in fact the Persians who were the first to prepare and savour sturgeon roe. The word “caviar” actually comes from the Persian word “khav-yar” which means “cake of strength”, as many medicinal powers were attributed to caviar. Sturgeon roe has not always been the delicacy that it is today. A long time ago, caviar was eaten by the fishermen at the Caspian sea or in American saloons as an appetizer – mainly because of its salty taste – to encourage thirst.
Of course, without refrigeration caviar is quickly spoiled. It is exactly this perishability that made caviar so exclusive, and it was precisely this exclusivity that fascinated the Tsars back then, and continues to enthrall the modern higher echelons of society to this day. It is an undeniable fact that Russia and the Russian Tsars catapulted caviar into the world of utter luxury.
Over the years, the sturgeon eggs had become much more popular among the upper class of the European society. By the Middle Ages, the British Kings reserved all the sturgeon for their own consumption and knighted it the “Royal Fish”, set aside solely for royalty.
By the mid-1800’s, ever greater quantities of sturgeon were harvested for their eggs, as the aristocracy in Russia and Europe had developed a taste for the “food of the Gods”. Because the popularity of caviar around the world increased tremendously over the years, over-fishing, illegal poaching and pollution resulted in the depletion of wild sturgeon from what was once a healthy population.
In 1998, the sturgeon came under the protection of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Regulating international trade in sturgeon was essential to preserve the resource for future generations. A couple of years later (around 2011), CITES banned all import and export of wild caviar in an effort to end the unsustainable exploitation of sturgeon species. The introduction of CITES controls in 1998, and customers demanding sustainably produced sturgeon caviar, has driven the transformation of the industry into a global sturgeon farming business.
Can you give us an overview of Imperial Heritage Caviar?
The Story Behind Imperial Heritage Caviar
Imperial Heritage Caviar stands for quality, purity and sustainability. Its unique approach allows the selection of environmentally sustainable caviar from the most praised sturgeon species, while respecting traditional values and nature’s balance.
The Caviar House “Imperial Heritage“, was founded in 2o12 by the Colman family – Mr Koenraad Peter Colman, his wife Mrs Kristel Berghmans and their daughter Miss Elisabeth Colman – who still own and operate it to this day. It all started as a passion, the search for sustainably farmed Caviar that still treasures the traditional flavour. Eventually, this passion resulted in a new business.
The Story Behind the Name
Imperial Heritage Caviar was established in honour of Peter The Great (Peter De Grote), who transformed the Tsardom of Russia in the Russian Empire in 1721. Being part of the Romanov family, this great emperor was a real connoisseur of caviar. As a fish and caviar lover, Peter the Great opened the first office for fishing in Astrakhan. During the Romanov’s imperial banquets and celebrations, caviar was one of the top delicacies. Hereby, increasing in popularity amongst the elite of that day, caviar was called “The Black Gold”. Therefore, “Imperial Heritage est. 1721” refers to the Emperor Peter The Great, who boosted these refined sturgeon eggs into the world of utter luxury.
Tell us about the brand’s core principles and how these are upheld in the company and its products?
We are a traditional caviar house that stands for quality, purity and sustainability. Our company is located in Belgium but we operate internationally, including in BeNeLux, South Africa, Saint Barthélemy and Dubai, among other regions.
What makes us different is that Imperial Heritage Caviar is a family-owned company that specialises in selecting the world’s most refined caviar. Actually, we are caviar “affineurs”. To achieve the highest quality caviar while respecting nature’s balance, we supervise the entire course of life of the fish, from the very beginning until maturity. The caviar farms we work with are located in Northern Italy, in the Lombardy region.
As sustainable farming is extremely important to us, our fish swim in 100% naturally-sourced water, which is constantly refreshed (this means the water is not recycled and no antibiotics are used) in order to avoid diseases and contamination of the water. Also, our fish swim in open air lakes that have a bottom comprised of stone and boulders, which creates the ideal natural habitat for our sturgeons. This means we provide a clean culture environment, without any risk of secondary undesired tastes of the fish or the eggs.
Tell us more about the method of preparation, selection, packing and maturing…
The tradition of preparing caviar has remained the same for thousands of years, and we keep to these traditional methods. The harvesting, preparation and manufacturing process of caviar is incredibly arduous, and follows strict procedures.
The birth of caviar begins with the removal of the fish eggs (roe) from the sturgeon. After removal of the egg sack, the roe is carefully sieved, cleaned, rinsed and classified according to size, colour, flavour and texture. In general, the size, flavour and colour of the sturgeon eggs varies depending on whether they are “Beluga,” “Oscietra” or “Sevruga” varieties. The eggs can be golden, black, brown, dark green or grey. If the classification process is completed, the caviar moves on to the salting phase.
The salting process is related to the quality of the caviar, so the quantity of added salt is carefully monitored. The main purpose of salting is to preserve the caviar, and maintain as much of the fresh and authentic flavour as possible. Therefore, the amount of salt used can vary. The most superior type of caviar is prepared “Malossol”, a Russian word for little salt (<3.7%). Malossol traditionally was and still is used to signal to consumers that what they are buying is quality in taste and has not been over-salted. Aside from Malossol, there is pressed caviar, semi-preserved or salted caviar, and pasteurized caviar. Our Imperial Heritage Caviar is always Malossol!
Our Great Caviar Masters from Russia and Iran treat and salt our caviar according to old traditional recipes. In the end, our caviar has less than 3.7% salt. The supervision and final selection of these fine caviars is guaranteed by our family (Colman family), carefully picked out to present only the best caviar to our most appreciated gourmets.
The caviar is packed immediately after the preparation and salting process, in traditional tins with a thick rubber band. This design of caviar tins has not changed for decades, and it is still effectively in use today. The tins are fully packed with caviar and then squeezed down with the lid, forcing the air to escape while retaining the eggs in a tight oil pack. The thick rubber band holds the lid in place and ensures it remains vacuum-packed. Vacuum-packing caviar is extremely important as exposure to air is devastating to the caviar quality. This traditional packaging allows the caviar to mature in a natural manner. The maturing process can take up to 10 months depending on what our customers prefer most. This enables us to offer exceptionally refined caviar, tailored to our customer’s preferences.
How did you get into this business and what is your favorite/most rewarding part of it?
Three and a half years ago, after finishing my university studies in Applied Economics and my masters in General Management at Vlerick Business School, I started my career in the Imperial Heritage Caviar family business.
I love having the chance to work closely with my parents. My father and I fly over every month to the farms in Lombardy that we partner with to select our Imperial Heritage Caviar. The first selection is done immediately after the harvest by our Great Caviar Masters. The second selection (after the caviar has matured for a couple of months in the traditional tin with the rubber band) is done by my father and me. Every tin we sell has gone through our selection first! From father to daughter, all inspired by one passion: “the finest Caviar of the World”.
Furthermore, I am glad that I have the unique opportunity to work closely with all these incredible chefs that are so passionate about food. It is a pleasure to see how they use their magic to make beautiful creations with our caviar! You could call it heaven on a plate!
What are some of the difficulties you face in this industry and how do you overcome them?
Caviar is a temperature sensitive product, and as a result, it is of great importance to keep the goods at the right temperature (±2°Celsius) at all times. As we work internationally, we ship caviar all over the world to Michelin-starred restaurants and to-of-the-line hotels. All these shipments are done cold-chain, meaning the goods should be refrigerated during the whole trip (during shipping and transit). Sometimes it can be a challenge to find on the one hand the right flight connections and on the other hand the reliable logistics partners to get the goods, constantly refrigerated, to the customer in time .
On top of that, the sturgeon (the fish producing the caviar) is a protected species, which results in a lot of paperwork that needs to be completed every time we export out of Europe. Fortunately we have become experienced in these kind of shipments and we have managed to find reliable logistics partners that deliver our Imperial Heritage Caviar at the right temperature to our beloved customers all over the world!
Sustainability is important to the company – can you expand on this?
Sustainability is no doubt the keyword of the future, as it is the only way to ensure a future for current and next generations. Sustainable seafood is part of this philosophy.
Since 1998, the sturgeon has been listed by the Washington Convention as a species in danger of extinction. Our partners have been fighting every day for over 30 years to safeguard this endangered fish species. The entire Imperial Heritage Caviar manufacturing facility is certified “BRC” and “IFS high level”, quite unique in the world of sturgeon breeders and caviar producers. Moreover, we have been awarded the Certificate “Friend of the Sea” for our sustainable approach in breeding.
You work with some of the industry’s best chefs – tell us more about who you work with and the significance of these partnerships?
We work with Michelin-starred restaurants, top chefs and first-class hotels. We also have other exclusive partnerships such as with The World Residences At Sea, as well as with Michelin BeNeLux and GaultMillau Belgium.
These partnership are really valuable to us. It is very rewarding to see that our Imperial Heritage Caviar satisfies even the most selective and refined palates, and to have it be appreciated by the best connoisseurs in the world is very special.
Some of our customers include:
- Eden Rock St Barths Hotel
- The World Luxury Residences At Sea
- Hof Van Cleve – 3 Michelin star restaurant led by Peter Goossens
- Zilte – 2 Michelin star restaurant led by Chef Viki Geunes
- Boury – 2 Michelin star restaurant led by led Tim Boury
- Aan De Poel – 2 Michelin star restaurant led by Chef Stefan van Sprang
- Fg Restaurant – 2 Michelin star restaurant led by Chef François Geurds
- Restaurant Vrijmoed – 2 Michelin star restaurant led by Michaël Vrijmoed
- Restaurant Colette – 1 Michelin star restaurant led by Chef Thijs Vervloet
- Le pristine – Sergio Herman’s new restaurant in Antwerp
- Dubai distributer: Salmontini
- South Africa distributer: Wild Peacock
- Saint Barthélemy distributer: Foodland Saint Barth
Why do you think chefs have chosen your product to use in their restaurants?
I believe that chefs look for quality, purity and sustainability in their products, which is what we stand for. Our caviar is refined and elegant in taste, and chefs appreciate the tradition and skill in its production – like the fact that it is still salted according to the ancient recipes and that is has matured the traditional way. And all of this, while respecting nature’s balance.
What’s your favorite way to consume caviar and how is it best enjoyed?
There is some great inspiration for culinary uses for caviar here. Some of my favourite foods to pair with caviar include:
- Pomme Moscovite
- Tartare Piemontese topped with caviar
- Blinis with sour cream and caviar
For maximum enjoyment, you should keep it simple and enjoy the pure taste of the caviar itself. To fully enjoy all the subtle flavours of caviar, try the following ritual: serve a small portion of caviar on the back of your thumb. After a few seconds on the hand, the caviar warms slightly and the intense taste of the caviar will be released. First, bring your fist under the nose and evaluate the fragrance; this should be almost absent, sometimes slightly evoking the sea (but it should not be associated with the smell of preserved fish). Now, let’s taste! Take the caviar in your mouth and use your tongue to trap and burst the roe against the palate (roof of your mouth). Only then, the pure taste and delicate flavour of the caviar will be fully released and appreciated. Simply enjoy an explosion of taste…
Caviar should also always be served correctly, as this shall not merely please the eye, but also the palate. Firstly, caviar should always be served on ice. For a simple presentation, keep it in the tin, placed on crushed ice. When it comes to serving caviar, placing the tin’s lid nearby is not only allowed, it’s customary. Secondly, caviar should be served with a proper spoon! From a simple glass server to mother of pearl hand carved spoons, the “accoutrements de la table” for serving caviar are as practical as they are pretty.
A mother of pearl or tortoise shell spoon is used to lift the delicate egg up vertically to avoid crushing it. Of course, it is not obliged to use mother of pearl spoons. However, be forewarned: caviar connoisseurs believe metal utensils spoil the subtle taste of caviar and they prefer to rather use plastic ware than risk sabotaging the savoury delicacy
Finally, the drink should not overwhelm the caviar! Traditionally, ice cold vodka (a neutral vodka, not spiced or flavoured) or dry champagne should accompany caviar. The rule of thumb is not to serve any beverage or food that will overwhelm the caviar taste.
Last of all, it’s up to you to enjoy these beautiful taste sensations.
What’s next for Imperial Heritage Caviar, any new products or partnerships on the horizon?
A couple of weeks ago we launched our very exclusive Limited Edition Caviar, the Oscietra Imperial.
Oscietra typically has a color ranging from dark gray/brown to medium gray/brown. The light brown color of the “Oscietra Imperial” is extremely rare with its golden hue. During the time of wild sturgeon caviar, Oscietra caviar with this light brown color was not allowed to be exported out of Iran as these lots were completely reserved for the Shah. That is why some refer to this “Oscietra Imperial” as the “Shah Caviar”. This light brown color is also reminiscent of the famous Iranian Karaburun Caviar. The “Oscietra Imperial” is not only considered one of the most coveted caviars but also one of the world’s best.
The light brown tinted pearls of the Special Edition “Oscietra Imperial” caviar will amaze you with their complex and rich flavor. This caviar, 100% pure Oscietra, comes from the Acipenser Gueldenstaedtii (Gueldenstaedtii X Gueldenstaedtii). This caviar is characterized by its subtle walnut and hazelnut touch followed by its extremely elegant creamy aftertaste. The pearls are traditionally salted.
How can one go about buying your products?
Image credits – Picture1: Belga Queen Restaurant Brussels; Picture 2: Viki Geunes, Zilte & Hungry for More; Picture 3: Imperial Heritage Caviar; Picture 4: Thijs Vervloet, Restaurant Colette; Picture 5: Belga Queen Restaurant Brussels; Picture 6 & 7: Tim Coppens; Picture 8 & 9 Kris Hossey; Picture 10: Thijs Vervloet, Restaurant Colette; Picture 11: Tim Coppens; Picture 12: Kris Hossey.