Tuesday, September 10, 2013

They are on their way!

Guess what? After three long months, Belon Oysters will be back on September 15th!

I am my father's daughter

Showing off one of our oysters

The Belon Oyster (left) is much larger than the locally cultivated American Oyster (right)

Also known as the European Flat Oyster, these are a special treat. Most oysters in the United States are farm raised. But not these sweet puppies. We harvest them in the wild. Get ready hipsters and foodies, I'm going to use one of your favorite words. Our Belon oysters are Free Range.

I'm not a big fan of slapping labels on products to try and make them sound fancier, healthier, or tastier. Take the Maine lobster as an example. I was in a grocery store the other day and saw a "Free Range" sticker on the side of the lobster tank in the seafood section. What is a free range lobster? Lobsters are not farm raised. To my knowledge, every lobster bought and sold within the State of Maine is a free range lobster. Is it not a bit redundant to stick a label on the critter? That label certainly does nothing to help the consumer differentiate between that lobster and those being sold down the street in a different fish market. If anything, it only serves to confuse the consumer.

Some fish and products are farm raised (salmon, tilapia, shrimp and oysters to name a few) and the Free Range description actually means something. Aquaculture, is a dirty business. Literally. Thousands of fish penned up together create large amount of feces. In order to prevent disease and death, antibiotics and genetic modification are utilized. Additionally, unintended in-breeding creates a weaker and inferior creature which could not survive in the wild. Or worse, if it did survive, it could taint the wild population. This is such a risk that aquaculturists are researching ways to better sterilize their fish and reduce the risk of contaminating the natural environment.

Oysters are a bit different though. They have a relatively low impact on the environment, being filter feeders they actually clean the water in the area. They also require little human intervention in terms of reproduction and disease control. These factors have led to the proliferation of oyster cultivation. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch states that 95% of the oysters consumed world wide are farm raised.

But this is what makes our oysters so special. Only 5% of oysters consumed are wild. These are a unique product. Their flavors will vary depending on where they are harvested, while flavor is more controlled in a farmed oyster. These are ideal for the adventurous oyster eater who is looking for something different and something not easily found. A farm raised product is like your standard jelly bean; no surprises, you always know what you are going to get (green tastes like green and red tastes like red). While a wild product is more like a Jelly Belly; you occasionally get one of those weird flavors but you don't care because eventually you get one that makes you say "wow, what is that? That is awesome!"

The absolute best thing about our wild oysters is that they are responsibly harvested. Diving is one of the least invasive ways to harvest any product. There is virtually no by-catch and undersized or oversized product can be left on the bottom, completely undisturbed.

If you can't tell, I am more than a little proud of our oysters. That is why I am celebrating the opening of the Belon oyster season with $10 off all oyster orders placed before September 15th.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Hero: The Lobster Roll

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend. I don't know about you, but I earned my Monday off.

The Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass festival (August 29th - September 1st) was quite an event. Dozens of bands performed and, from what festival goers had to say, some of them were really quite famous in the bluegrass world. I don't know a whole lot about the genre but I do know that it provided some pretty chill background tunes for working.

Zachy and I worked our butts off all weekend, each putting in more than 60 hours over the four day span.

Thursday was a slow start, dedicated mostly to setting up our booth and trying to explain to folks what exactly we were selling.

Can we talk about these signs the Fish Queen made for us? Pretty awesome if you ask me.

This was our first "event." Zach does his lobster bakes in people's homes and my mom prepares product in the store, but we have never before had a booth at a fair or festival. So, I was pretty impressed with our set-up.

On Friday business picked up a little as more people arrived at the festival. We cooked some lobster bakes, sold a few live lobsters and handed out a ton of business cards but mostly we took pre-orders for Saturday.

Saturday was busier. We did a nice dinner sitting and had quite a few happy customers. We even had a few customers show up for seconds. But it just wasn't enough.

As it turned out, lobster bakes at a festival are tough. First, many of the festival goers were camping and were cooking their own food back at their campsites. Second, we were competing with sausages, french fries, fried dough, lobster rolls, and other snackables. While some were looking to sit down and have a nice meal and listen to music, most just wanted to grab something quick and move on. You can't really eat a whole lobster while walking around.

By Saturday night, Zach and I were pretty down. We had come into the festival pumped up and ready to serve a ton of classic Maine lobster bakes. Not only had we failed to do that, we had also spent three days directing people to the cart across from us who was selling lobster rolls, fish and chips, fried clams, and various other seafood. That absolutely killed us.

For the last 10 years my brother and I have been focused on trying to convince people to eat OUR seafood. So, it goes against the grain for us to shake our heads and point to the other guy. All weekend we were mobbed with people coming up to our booth and telling us how much they love Gurnet Trading Co. and asking if they could get a lobster roll. We had to delicately explain to them that we were only allowed to sell our lobster bake meals and live lobsters, if they wanted something else they would have to go to the other guy. Making us send business to a competitor is a sure fire way to dampen our spirits and crush our souls.

Thoroughly broken and ready to give up, my brother begged an audience with the festival manger on Sunday morning. Just as I arrived at Zach's Country Store, I received a text from my brother telling me to start loading stuff without him; he had a plan. We were late opening up our booth; but when we did, it was rearranged as a lobster roll assembly line.

We sold more than 150 lobster rolls, obliterating Gurnet's one day record. In fact, we sold so many lobster rolls in such a short period of time the Fish King and Queen were cooking and picking lobsters themselves to make sure we didn't run out.

Our lobster bakes had covered our entrance fees but the lobster roll saved the day and justified my brother's and my hard work.

I'm not sure we will go back to the Bluegrass Festival as vendors, but I do know we walked away on Sunday feeling damn good about providing a quality product to folks in the 11th hour. We received a killer shout out from one of the bands and had people coming back for seconds and even thirds. That is what we are about, even if it means taking a beating sometimes.