Monday, January 14, 2008

Vodka and caviar

Last Wednesday I went to a vodka and caviar tasting at the Williams Club with Mabel's brother Ben.

Darra Goldstein, a Professor of Russian at Williams, led the tasting.

I know a vodka and caviar tasting sounds ridiculous in a way, but I couldn't resist. It turned out to be really a good experience. I have a new appreciation for vodka in particular.

We tasted 5 sustainable caviars.

Clockwise from bottom (6 o'clock):
  1. Whitefish from Glacier National Park
  2. Rainbow Trout from North Carolina
  3. Salmon from Russia
  4. Paddleback sturgeon from Mississippi
  5. Hackleback sturgeon from Mississippi
The sturgeon roe is supposed to be like Sevruga. The hackleback was my favorite.

Darra talked a little about the famous caviars such as Beluga. What I found crazy was that one Beluga sturgeon can produce up to 300 pounds of eggs at a time. At about $200 an ounce it's no wonder why poaching is a problem.

She also mentioned that there's a pressed caviar preparation called paiusmaya which is salty, flavorful, and relatively inexpensive.

The vodka tasting was more interesting than I thought it would be. We drank them "Russian style," meaning an entire freezer-cold shot in one swoop. Here are my rough tasting notes.
  1. Finlandia: Barley. Finland. Continuous distillation.
  2. Chopin: Potato. Polish. No nose. Interesting but strange flavor.
  3. Ketel One: Wheat. Dutch. Peter the Great. Pot stills. Center distilled. Like a Russian vodka. Also a good lemon-infused version.
  4. Stolichnaya Gold: The name means "from the capital." Pepsi imported for the Soviets during the cold war. Darra was asked to promote Stoli as a junior faculty member at Williams in the '80s.
  5. Jewel of Russia: Made of wheat and rye. A classic vodka, Darra's favorite. My favorite from the tasting. It had a nice texture, kind of oily.
  6. Billberry Jewel of Russia: This was a dessert vodka. We had it with chocolate truffles.
The Russian vodkas had a characteristic spicy finish. Chopin was really strange. It didn't smell like anything, and it tasted bizarre. I think I definitely prefer Russian style vodkas. I like that they smell like alcohol and that they have somewhat of a bite.

Darra mentioned that a favorite cure for colds is to put on a scarf, down some pepper-infused vodka, eat buttered black rye bread, and sweat it out in bed. I'll keep that in mind.

At the end of the tasting, they brought out leftover caviar in their tins and plastic containers. For some reason, the Williams Club had absolutely no plastic utensils in the building (let alone mother of pearl spoons), so we ate it with our fingers, passing the different caviars from table to table.

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