For this series of three blog posts, we’re focusing on oysters. Why? Well, the fact that they’re an incredible dish to pair with beer *cough* Tripel *cough* certainly doesn’t hurt. They also reside in a fascinating nook of food culture, and we wanted to give them a little more love than just listing off the names of some of our favorite oysters. (We’ll be saving that for part three of this blog series.) This first blog is an intro to our favorite bivalve.
Oysters are old. Like, pre-ice age old. They’ve been eaten by many different predators for many years, humans now being their predator du jour. They’re filter feeders, meaning they suck in water filled with algae, and bits of microscopic stuff and spit out clean water. In fact, one oyster can filter fifty gallons of water per day. So they’re a remarkably beneficial creature to introduce to any river or bay’s ecosystem.
Mark, from Basket Island, shucks an oyster of his own.
One of our favorite facts about oysters is that almost every single oyster grown on the East coast of the United States is the exact same species—Crassostrea virginica. If you’re an oyster fan, you’ll have noticed that every east coast oyster you’ve encountered neither looked, nor tasted, the same. Not even close. This is the amazing part about oysters. Though they may start the same, where they’re planted and what they eat almost completely dictate what they become.
Oyster farmers call this merroir, a sly take on the term terroir from the wine-making process. Merroir refers to the impact that an oyster’s surroundings—water temperature, plant life, salinity, etc.—have on the fully-grown oyster.
A Nonesuch Emerald and an Abigail Pearl
We’ll give you one example: Nonesuch Emeralds and Abigail Pearl oysters. Both are grown by Nonesuch Oysters in Scarborough Marsh, the biggest salt marsh in Maine. The oysters start out as identical seed, spend the first summer in floating gear and are then put on the bottom for their second summer. During this second summer, Nonesuch Emeralds are loose on the bottom while the Abigail Pearls are in gear, slightly elevated off the bottom. Thanks to its cushy life in oyster gear, the Abigail Pearl reaches adulthood with a pearlescent shell and delicately salty flavor. A Nonesuch Emerald oyster, however, spends its time free range on the bottom, where it’s forced to handle nature’s challenges on its own. This gives the Nonesuch Oysters a decidedly mossy-looking shell color, a meatier bite, and hits of grass and earth. Seriously, just modest changes in the growing conditions changes an oyster significantly.
Of course they’re both delicious, so don’t worry yourself about that little detail. In our next blog, we’re aiming to provide an oyster shucking lesson that will convince even the most hesitant shucker to give it a try.
The Nonesuch Oyster farm in Scarborough Marsh.