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.