How Petrossian Invented a New Way to Grade Caviar
Alex Petrossian (yes, that Petrossian) explains how he created a new evaluation system for the famed French caviar brand.
Lead pencil sharpener. Sea embrun. Euphoric.
These are a few words used to describe the experience of eating caviar, as detailed on a newly developed caviar grading sheet from Alex Petrossian of the legendary Petrossian caviar family based in France.
“My father spent countless hours to train my palate in recognizing one caviar from the next,” says Petrossian. “Coming up with this tasting system has been a long time in the making, and we’re happy to finally introduce it to the market.”
Here’s how he came up with the caviar grading sheet, and how it works.
“We’ve taken influence from industries that aren’t directly related to caviar: whiskey, cigars, wine, sake, even art and fashion,” says Petrossian of his five-part system. “For example, a cigar smoker will talk about smoke density and texture and, in fashion, a dress made in 200 hours may be worn once. Caviar is the same way.”
Each tin of Petrossian caviar gets at least 50 hours of hands-on care and attention; it’s a daily job for one lucky person at the company's clean room outside Paris, where all the roe is matured and inspected. “Helping people understand this experience was key to creating this scale,” he says.
Petrossian also pulled from his years of working alongside his father, Armen Petrossian, for this tasting sheet.
“Originally, it was not meant to be shared with the general public since it was our work tool that we shared with only our best clients,” Petrossian says. “After considerable thought, we arrived at those descriptions and definitions we believe are most universal to the experience, very similar to how sommeliers describe certain wines.”
The grading sheet is broken down into five sections: la vue (sight), touch and hearing, scent/afterscent, sensation and taste/aftertaste. Then, it’s further broken down into sub-categories of observation, which is where you get those entertaining descriptors mentioned earlier.
At Petrossian, it’s the privilege of a few, including the Petrossians, to go through this evaluation process with the tins every two weeks. They methodically run through each category, from scaling clarity and transparency of the roe for la vue to pressing it between thumb and index fingers to listen for the “caviar song” and examine bursting point in the touch and hearing section.
“It takes 15 years to become proficient in it,” Petrossian says. “You have to be patient in listening to it.”
A shinier, slight flat top to the roe shows that they’re firmly and securely packed in the tin, while the actual sound of the compressed roe and bursting point indicates mouthfeel.
“To build a profile takes real expertise,” says Petrossian. “The way any true artisan dedicated to the craft might. We live for this.”