Caviar and celebrations

Fireworks at the red place in moscow

Many myths and legends are associated with caviar, however the most enduring must surely be its connection with the most lavish celebrations. This is the story of how that reputation has evolved.

As early as the fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle was writing how caviar and sturgeon were ‘heralded in to banquets among a fanfare of trumpets and flowers’. But it was in fact in medieval Russia that caviar first gained widespread popularity, as a dish served during periods of religious fasting! In thirteenth century Russia, the Orthodox Church formally sanctioned sturgeon as a food that may be consumed during religious fasts and, back then, fasting took up almost 200 days of the year!

In 1240, chronicles recording the arrival of Mongols in to Moscow also tell caviar-inspired stories. One in particular describes the leader of the Mongols, Batu Khan, visiting an Orthodox monastery in Uglich, north of Moscow. The monks there, eager to impress their new overlord, prepared a feast for his entourage with the last dish being hot apple preserves topped with a serving of salted sturgeon eggs! Batu Khan must have enjoyed what he was eating - the monastery was one of only a handful that were not destroyed by his men.

Throughout the middle ages, caviar’s popularity began spreading among the world’s ruling classes, especially at banquets laid on for imperial courts. The very best caviar became especially prized - even revered - by Russian czars, Manchurian emperors, even the Vatican! The terms ‘Royal’ and ‘Imperial’ were coined to describe the highest quality caviar for presentation to the great and the good on state occasions.

British kings of the middle ages also began recognising this ‘most noble delicacy’, reserving all sturgeon and roe exclusively for consumption by the court. In 1324, all sturgeon were knighted by King Edward II as "Royal Fish" to be set aside solely for royalty – a tradition which still holds in the United Kingdom to this day.

Towards the later part of the 1800’s, refrigeration techniques and transport methods - particularly the invention of steam ships and railroads - had improved so much that the long distance from the Caspian Sea to the capitals of Europe no longer presented a headache to traders. Increased exports led to even greater interest in caviar and a wider appreciation of sturgeon roe as a delicacy fit for celebrations. Social elites across Europe became particularly keen on the idea of an exclusive party food that few could afford. Its strong association with Russia was hugely beneficial in this respect – Russia’s travelling aristocracy were widely considered to be the most extravagant party people by their French and Italian counterparts.

By the start of the twentieth century, caviar’s reputation as a food for celebrations was almost complete. Famous in Russia for being part of a traditional zakouski - a selection of appetisers served only to the wealthiest and most powerful in society – it was also strongly associated with Maslenitsa, a week-long ‘Pancake Festival’ which precedes lent.

Towards the later part of the 20th century, caviar’s exclusivity increased as its popularity began to threaten the existence of some sturgeon species. A global ban on trading caviar internationally severely restricted supplies, which further cemented its reputation as a rare and highly sought-after luxury.

Today, thanks to sustainable sturgeon-rearing practices like those developed by Attilus, high quality caviar is much more accessible than it once was. Popular entry-level options like our Royal Siberian caviar, as well as top tier varieties like our Royal Oscietra, are now available at more affordable prices. So while caviar remains one of the world's most prized natural delicacies, its strong association with celebratory occasions hasn't changed - whether rejoicing at a special time of year or celebrating in style to recognise a significant personal achievement.

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