Caviar Dreams: The Tastes of Celebration

Yachts, private jets, caviar, champagne—all standard ingredients in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But, every so often, at parties and special occasions, we mere mortals get to live large and enjoy fancy fish eggs and fizz, too. In this first episode of our two-part miniseries on the foods of celebration, Gastropod explores how something that Russian peasants ate as a form of religious penance became one of the world's most expensive foods. Join us this holiday season as we get up close and personal with the source of caviar by giving a sturgeon an ultrasound, and tell the story of the long-lost town of Caviar, New Jersey. Get out your mother-of-pearl spoon and dive in!

Episode Notes

Left, the recirculating aquaculture systems raising sustainable sturgeon for caviar at Marshallberg Farms; right, fish farmer Will Brown nets a sturgeon. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

How do you tell when a sturgeon's ready to yield caviar? Give them an ultrasound! Left, Will Brown and Brian Reburn flip a female sturgeon to scan her belly; right, the ultrasound results—all those tiny white dots are eggs. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Inga Saffron

Inga Saffron is the author of Caviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy. She is a former Russia correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she now covers architecture.

The careful process of screening caviar, in which Marshallberg Farm workers pull out eggshells, imperfect eggs, and blood clots. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

I.J. Won, Lianne Won-Reburn, Brian Reburn, and Will Brown at Marshallberg Farm

Marshallberg Farm in North Carolina farms Osetra sturgeon in their recirculating aquaculture facility for a more sustainable caviar—which you can taste for yourself by ordering from their website. Thanks to founder I.J. Won, sales manager Lianne Won-Reburn, facility manager Brian Reburn, and fish farmer Will Brown for hosting us!

Cynthia and Nicky lick the bowl clean after sampling caviar at Marshallberg Farm.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics

This episode of Gastropod was supported by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics. Check out the other books, movies, shows, podcasts, and more that they support here.

Dionne Warwick and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"

For those of you who weren't glued to the TV in the 80s, host Robin Leach ended each episode of his iconic show, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," by wishing his audience "champagne dreams and caviar wishes." Tune in for the shoulder pads, the hairstyles, and, of course, the fabulous credits song by Dionne Warwick.

Yet More Caviar, from Eater

Want to try this briny treat without breaking the bank? Our friends at Eater have tips on how to order caviar for (relatively) cheap. Plus, good news for vegan and vegetarian epicures: Eater also has the scoop on chefs that are making vegan "caviar" from ingredients like grains, seeds, and seaweed.


Click here for a transcript of the show. Please note that the transcript is provided as a courtesy and may contain errors.