Oyster LoveApril 1, 2017

10 Wonderful Oyster Instagrammers You Should Be Following

I love Instagram. Dare I say even more so than blogging? Every time I scroll through my oyster-centric feed on @inahalfshellblog, I always discover something beautiful, surprising, funny, and inspiring. Oyster Instagrammers are a total thing now.

But maintaining a high-quality Instagram feed is hard work! It takes a lot of time and energy to come up with consistently stellar content and a dependable vibe. Here are 10 amazing oyster-centric accounts that I adore, admire and suggest you follow if you want to live, eat, sleep, and dream about oysters all day every day.

#1 Hama Hama Oysters

A lot of farms are on IG now, but few do it quite as well as Hama Hama. It’s like Food Network meets Travel Channel for oysters! Breathtaking farm scenery, ridiculous sunsets (I’m a total sucker for sunsets), and flawless shucks. Follow @hamahamaoysters

#2 Forty North Oyster Farms

My two favorite kinds of FNOF posts are whenever @oysterdog makes a cameo and when the guys discover random sea critters in their fields. They’re making a name for NJ oysters! Follow @fortynorthoysters

#3 Pangea Shellfish

Oysterologists/wholesalers/growers, they know how to ace the presentation. Nobody else showcases so many oysters varieties as flawlessly as they do. My theory is that there’s a reason why Pangea’s logo kind of resembles a brain… Follow @pangeashellfish

#4 Pleasure House Oysters

Chris Ludford is the master of the thoughtful long-form Instagram caption. I learn something about Virginia history and waterfront culture every time I catch one of his posts. Follow @pleasurehouseoysters

#5 Hog Island Oyster Co.

Confession: I actually have to scroll past Hog Island’s posts really fast sometimes or else they end up making me TOO HUNGRY (or should I say hangry)? It’s the most foodielicious of the oyster farm IG’s. Follow @hogislandoysterco

#6 Fanny Bay Oyster Bar & Shellfish Market

Ok, well actually, Fanny Bay’s feed might give HIO a run for their money. They share and curate gorgeous oyster platters and other seafood. On a related note, can we talk about why these amazing places are across the country from me?? Follow @fannybayoysters

#7 Oyster Obsession

An endless oyster shellebration feed—all forms are welcome here! What’s also impressive is OO’s drool-worthy collection of oyster recipes on their website. Follow @oysterobsession

#8 Signature Oysters

There are plenty of oyster lovers outside of North America too, but only a few IG’ers really have stood out for me. Signature Oysters consistently pushes the envelope and keeps me guessing. Follow @signatureoysters

#9 Shuckinhell

Not frequently updated, but when this mystery account does, it’s ah-may-zing. THANK YOU for putting the awful, terrible shucks on blast. It’s a dirty job and I’m glad they’re doing it. The captions are everything. Follow @shuckinhell

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#10 The Art of Oysters

Lastly, I want to put up my new side project up for consideration. The Art of Oysters is to showcase shuckers and chefs who actually take the time to do it right, or do it differently. Follow @theartofoysters

Which oyster IG accounts am I missing??

Oyster Bar Review, Oyster Trips & ToursMarch 26, 2017

Los Angeles Oyster Crawl

After 5.5 hours of flight time, our pilot came over the intercom with a friendly weather update. 73 degrees, partly cloudy, great visibility. Welcome to Los Angeles! I was totally ready for a week of Southern Californian oyster bliss.

In the fall of 2015, I had the honor of hosting my first-ever West Coast Oyster Omakase at Blue Plate Oysterette and decided to make a work-slash-research-slash-reunion trip out of it. My best friend moved from NYC to Santa Monica earlier that year and we—along with a few other NY-transplanted buddies—were due for some hang out time.

Don’t have time to read it all? Get the oyster highlights: Los Angeles City Guide.

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Descending into LAX on a clear day was pretty cool, but walking through the palm trees in Palisades Park during sunset was even more magical. Anne’s apartment was literally across the street from a swaying outdoor palm court… lucky girl!

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It also happened to be a timely visit. The inaugural Downtown LA Oyster Festival, hosted by The Oyster Gourmet at Grand Central Market, would be happening. Oyster lovers and growers united under one roof to enjoy the fresh harvest. The lines for oysters were a bit long, but it was worth the wait.

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The Oyster Gourmet

For those of you who haven’t heard of The Oyster Gourmet, pay attention. Owner and operator Christophe Happillon is the only Master Ecailler in Los Angeles. Ecailler is an old term for oysters in French (they’re called huîtres today) and is used as the professional label of seafood specialists in charge of preparing seafood plates, skilled in manipulating and shucking oysters and other shellfish.

As a seasoned pro, Christophe understands the importance of presentation and showmanship when it comes to providing a best-in-class oyster experience. This first becomes immediately apparent when you first come upon the freestanding raw bar at Grand Central Market. The unique design is comprised of several interlocking panels that are operated by a hand crank. It is truly a work of art (see above). Secondly, you won’t find a flawed shuck. You just won’t.

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I returned to the scene a day after the DTLA Oyster Festival to enjoy a much more relaxed experience. I sat down with Christophe to try half a dozen West Coast oysters and a chilled glass of Piquepoul, a variety of grape grown primarily in the Rhône Valley and Languedoc regions of France. That was the first time that I had tried this pairing and I’m a fan!

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Blue Plate Oysterette

The next day, I started my Oyster Omakase tasting sessions at Blue Plate Oysterette on West 3rd. There are a few concepts under the Blue Plate Restaurant Group, but this one was perfect for the occasion. It’s an East Coast seafood spot with a beachy and chic West Coast vibe.

My first session included local Foodstagrammers such as Corey of @missfoodieproblems, June of @stirandstyle, and Liz of @sushicravings. I had them (and everyone) taste an eclectic variety featuring Blue Pools from Hood Canal, WA, Olympias and Kumamotos from Washington, and Shooting Point from Eastern Shore of VA.

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Blue Plate had an excellent roster of West Coast varietals—a few that are hardly ever seen out East. This combined with their “I want to eat everything” menu made me want to set up camp in the back corner booth. Can I live here, please??

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Connie & Ted’s

Another establishment that several friends encouraged me to try out was Connie & Ted’s. I met up with my new colleague Mark, who leads biz dev for Australis on the west coast. There was an explosive oyster menu of both East and West Coast varieties. They had basically everything, including Damariscotta Flats from Maine!

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Unfortunately, a few of the oysters were a bit tired and were starting to go funky. The shucking also left a bit to be desired…hence just showing the photo of the shells vs the meats. I wasn’t sure if this was the norm (couldn’t be, right?) or if the staff just wasn’t feeling it that day. Fortunately, the rest of the meal was salvaged by the one of the most delicious Oyster Po’Boy I’ve ever had. I’ll have to give them a second chance.

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L&E Oyster Bar

While Anne resides next to the ocean, our friend Stefi is tucked away in the uber-hip hills of Silverlake. Stefi’s apartment is a stone’s throw away from L&E Oyster Bar, which has a great happy hour special. The upstairs bar offers a mix of East and West Coast oysters on the menu and some of them even carried the grower’s name! We ordered a dozen Pacific oysters and I tried the clam chowder. Yum… if I lived here, I’d probably live here.

EMC Seafood & Raw Bar

EMC Seafood & Raw Bar

Weekend brunch rolled around. Stefi and I peeled off from our other girlfriends (Anne wanted vegan, gluten-free, blah blah blah) to dine at EMC Seafood & Raw Bar in Koreatown. Truth be told, I had heard mixed reviews about this place but I just had a feeling they wouldn’t disappoint. Our risk paid off! I ended up having a life-changing uni experience at EMC without a life-shattering bill. Big hunking lobes of Santa Barbara uni arrived at our table along with a platter of fresh, respectably shucked oysters and mouthwatering lobster fried rice. For great value and a great brunch, go.

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When you’re staying in Santa Monica, it’s probably a good idea to check out Santa Monica Seafood Market & Cafe, the retail branch of the seafood wholesale company. This fish market and restaurant cafe serve up a bounty of delicious fish and shellfish from around the world every day.

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Santa Monica Seafood Market & Cafe

I perched myself at the raw bar counter. My suggestion: if the shucker appears to have the best service area in the house, make sure that you sit squarely in front of them. You’re more likely to get good service, shucked oysters, and an interesting conversation. Although I was engaged in conversation with my companion, I still watched my shucker like a hawk… not sure if he noticed, but the oysters came out alright!

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The Jolly Oyster

At this point in my adventure, I was craving for a different kind of oyster excursion. So I got into my car and drove up to Malibu and ended up in a parking lot of a small shopping center. Great ocean views, but no oyster bar here. But that’s ok. I was rendezvousing with Mark Reynolds the co-founder of The Jolly Oyster, half way between his Ventura location and LA.

Mark had brought a small blue cooler of his goods on ice. Outside a small coffee shop, we began to shuck Kumamotos and his signature product “Jolly Oyster,” which is a hybrid that is mostly the Pacific oyster gene but experiences some of the Kumamoto’s sweetness. They were all delicious! Super fresh and perfectly sweet.

Mark’s story is pretty unique. He’s a Brit who discovered a passion for aquaculture and sustainable food systems while studying in Scotland. He met another guy named Mark [Venus] there who shared the same interest. After doing extensive market research, they decided to set up shop in Baja California / Mexico. Today, The Jolly Oyster operates a shellfish hatchery, a couple oyster farms, an online store, retail market, and the premier “Go shuck yourself” experience in Southern California.

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I have been known to travel in a manner that may seem somewhat irrational to the normal person. Like that time when I went from NYC to Hong Kong (16-hour non-stop flight) to spend just three days there for the Rugby Sevens. Or that time when I pulled an all-nighter to wait in line at 4AM for the bluefin tuna auction at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Some experiences are worth the distance and time, and my last stop on my Los Angeles Oyster Crawl was no different.

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Ironside Fish & Oyster

Anne and I drove three hours from Santa Monica to San Diego to check out Ironside Fish & Oyster Bar for lunch. The place was starting to fill up for brunch but we managed to grab a high top booth facing the bar. When we passed by the infamous roadsign bulletin board, I had to stop and admire. It is a hallmark of Ironside’s charisma and cheekiness. Alongside the daily oyster selection, there’s usually some kind of a punny play on a popular hip-hop song. There are too many good ones to count. (“Shuck It Like Its Hot” and “You Used to Call Me On My Shellphone” are probably my two front runners.)

The oysters lured me into Ironside, but the food sealed the deal. Two words: Chowder Fries. It’s kind of like poutine, but way better. I’m tempted to try and recreate this at home, but btw: don’t try to eat this whole dish on your own. You’ll fall into an eternal food coma. The steamed mussels with uni butter toast was also insanity.

Seven oyster bars in seven days… not bad! I shall be back for more, LA, I shall be back. 🙂

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2017 Addendum: Shuck Oyster Bar

I am enthusiastically adding this entry after returning from a whirlwind video shoot in Orange County in April. Shuck Oyster Bar is an intimate and airy shuckery nestled in the heart of The OC Mix shopping gallery. My friend Jen and I wandered through the maze of stores and finally arrived at Shuck’s door. I instantly felt a “best-kept secret” vibe as I walked in. You would never expect to find such an extensive (24+ varieties) and thoughtfully curated list of oysters in the middle of a mall in the OC, but there it was. Sonny, the resident oyster fanatic and partner, organized an impromptu “A-game” tasting flight. We mainly focused on West Coast, but he threw in a few East Coast gems that he also loved. I loved the fact that Sonny knew the details of every oyster like a true Oyster Master! The highlight of the tasting was probably the tumbled Glacier Points from Kachemak Bay, Alaska. I also have to admit that the Sex on the Bay oysters from New Brunswick were pretty delicious as well, despite the eye-rolling name. Next time when I’m in LA, I’m making it a point to drive down to Costa Mesa to relive this exquisite experience.

In A Half Shell - Shuck Oyster Bar

Are there any other fabulous oyster places that should be on my radar? Leave a comment below!

Get the highlights: Los Angeles Oyster City Guide.

Oyster How To'sFebruary 3, 2017

How to Open Oysters Without a Shucking Knife

Have you ever been stuck on an island with a bunch of oysters, but not a shucking knife? Here’s how to work around this “terrible” situation.

In A Half Shell Zeeland Roem Holland Oysters

Over the winter holiday, B and I went on our first dedicated dive trip to Bonaire, a tiny island that’s part of the Netherlands Antilles in the Carribean Sea. Ever since our trip to St. Lucia in 2012, I have been fascinated with being underwater. Then once I got my PADI certification in Thailand in 2014, scuba diving has become our new thing. If you haven’t tried it before, do try it! It gives you a whole new level of appreciation for our oceans.

We dove twice a day, every day, for 10 days. While I knew that we would encounter plenty of surprises under the sea, I was surprised to discover something equally remarkable inside the island’s main supermarket.

In A Half Shell Zeeland Roem Holland Oysters

Fact: where there are oysters, there I will be. It was the day before Christmas Eve and this super nice Dutch supermarket was packed. People were running around buying up all sorts of fruits, vegetables, meats, liquor, and snacks. Without even thinking about it, I wandered into an aisle in the “prepared” seafood section and came across this tightly packed wooden box of oysters from the Netherlands. A promo sign sign hung next to this box and another tray of less impressively packaged oysters. There was only one box left and I haven’t had “Zeeland” oysters in many, many years! Obviously, I wouldn’t be leaving the shop without it.

After paying about $25 USD for this pack of 12, we went back to our villa and started investigating the origins of these oysters. Zeeland’s Roem is part of Europe’s largest seafood processor. They mainly deal in shellfish—mussels, oysters, and prawns. On their website, they claim that their creuse oysters, known as “Fines de Zélande” are raised in pure Zeeland waters of the Oosterschelde and Grevelingen.

I picked up an oyster from the seaweed nest and felt the heftiness in my hand. A lot of meat inside, perhaps? That’s when I came to the realization that we’d have to improvise a bit on getting these guys open. I am a strong proponent for safe shucking, which means that I think you should always use hand protection and a proper oyster knife. I know, I know, some bros want to act tough and shuck barehanded. That’s fine, whatever. I like to keep my palms as soft, smooth, and blood-free as possible! 🙂

But assume you’re without a knife. (Maybe you broke it already?) That’s a cue to head to the garage or tool shed. Look for a sturdy instrument with a tapered or flat, but somewhat sharp tip. Some have found success with butter knives… in this case, a butter knife wouldn’t even fit under the hinge! We ended up having luck with one of the screwdrivers on a diver’s multitool.

Check out my buddy Hans taking a crack at it in the video below:

So there you have it! Fresh oysters from Holland that are pretty damn well shucked, if I don’t say so myself. (All of the oysters pictured above were by yours truly.) Unfortunately, the balmy 80-degree weather and my paranoia prevented me from trying any of these raw. Although I’m sure they would’ve been perfectly fine, there was no way in hell that I’d want to risk it before an international flight. In the end, we settled on grilling them with a makeshift BBQ bourbon butter. They were still quite tasty, but I suppose I’ll have to take a trip to Holland to experience the real deal.

What is the strangest tool you’ve ever used to open an oyster? Share your story in the comment section below!

Oyster Trips & ToursDecember 10, 2016

Ebb, Flow, and Cape May Salts

There’s no greater constant than change. That has been generally true of life and of oysters. Throughout the years, I’ve come across the Cape May Salt oyster from the southern tip of New Jersey many, many, many, many times. While some of its attributes never really change (like how pleasantly plump the meats are), the salinity and sweetness have always kept me guessing.

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A New Perspective

In 2009-ish, I had set out on a personal quest to capture and catalog the world of oyster flavors. It started as a basic 1-5 rating scale of salinity, sweetness, complexity, plus a healthy dose of fanciful froufrou descriptors. I even recorded the place and time of the tasting, but that was the extent the “scientificness.” For me, it was about doing fun and tasty scavenger hunt—an epicurean equivalent to Pokémon Go (is that still a thing??).

Today, the world has become inundated with books, websites, apps, and articles that insist on cataloging different oyster varietals to specific flavor descriptions. I’m guilty of this practice via my Oyster Concierge (soon to completely change), but I’ve come to realize that this an over-simplified and limited approach.

I should’ve seen the obvious truth.

Just sneak a peek at a fellow raw bar patron who just enjoyed their first oyster out of the dozen. They’re probably grinning from ear to ear. It’s not because their taste buds agreed with a description they found on somewhere on the web. They’re on a hunt for the unexpected. I’m not saying that it’s pointless to capture, trade or publish notes. What I am saying is: don’t assume that one experience or a single description can summarize an oyster’s entire expression. Because it doesn’t. It’s far from it. It fluctuates week to week, month to month, year to year. Hyper vintages, if you will.

I’m not saying that it’s pointless to capture, trade or publish notes. What I am saying is: let’s not kid ourselves and assume that one experience or a single description can summarize an oyster’s entire expression. Because it doesn’t. (It’s far from it.) It fluctuates week to week, month to month, year to year. The oyster world revolves around hyper vintages, if you will.

And that leads me to Cape May Salts. It is one of the few varieties that I have build a respectable collection of tasting notes on. They’re so easy to write about because they always seem to be around (but seriously guys, NJ oysters need a lot more love). Cape May Salts have surprised me more often than any other oyster. One year, they’re beautifully crisp with pointed salinity and sweet like ripe plums. The next year, they are earthy and mushroomy and mellow. Have you ever experienced that before?

Here are a handful of times when I’ve described this oyster on the blog:

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Billion Oyster Party — June 3, 2015 (image of a 33 Oyster tasting journal excerpt above)

Whiskey Washback — October 11, 2015
Cape May Salts (naked) paired with Port Charlotte Scottish Barley. I visited the Cape May Oyster farm a few months ago and was very impressed with their oysters from this year. The plump, buttery meats are a delight to savor. While the Scottish Barley is beautiful on its own, I didn’t love the pairing in this case. The strong peatiness of this scotch overpowered the subtleties of the Cape May Salt. Had the oyster been somehow cold smoked with a liquid smoke version of this scotch, I think it would’ve done well. Or maybe if you cut the scotch with oyster liquor?

The Dressler — May 9, 2012
First course was a simple and tasty Shooter featuring a plump Cape May Salt Oyster from the Cape Shore of Delaware Bay, NJ and a small glass of tomato water, bloody mary, and mezcal. The combination was potent and refreshing. The Cape May Salt was simultaneously succulent and firm. Also you can’t go wrong with starting with a little booze.

Saxon & Parole — February 16, 2012
The deeper we get into the meal, the heavier the courses become. At this point, the oysters begin to take a backseat to the creation… Same with the grilled and chilled tuna with baby romaine, green beans, olives and a Cape May Caesar dressing. It was delicious but didn’t showcase the oyster as well as the earlier courses.

Hank’s Oyster Bar — December 5, 2009
Cape May Salt: A small petite (1 inch) oyster that tasted very clean and crisp. The meat was very light, plump, and the liquid was moderately salty.

 

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Visiting the Farm

To truly appreciate why an oyster tastes the way it does, I always want to go to the source. I want to shake hands with the people who handle the oyster for three seasons or more. Last summer I had a chance to do just that. Cape May Salts are raised and marketed by Atlantic Cape Fisheries, a well-established Northeastern shellfish & seafood company that deals a lot with scallops, squid, and other tasty treats of the sea.

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Brian Harman, farm manager for Atlantic Cape Fisheries can usually be found either in the mud or on the phone. He started his career as a hatchery specialist at Rutgers University and eventually took over the production of Cape May Salts, the largest oyster farm in NJ at the moment. I learned that the relationship between Rutgers University and commercial oyster cultivation along the New Jersey coastline is deeply intertwined. Had it not been for the ongoing shellfisheries research program at Rutgers, which first began with Julius Nelson in 1888 and eventually led to Harold Haley Haskin’s oyster-saving work in the 1950’s, there would not be nearly as much oyster farming along the Atlantic coast.

The Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory can still be seen from the oyster farm (tucked away on the right in the image below). It serves as an apt reminder of the work that has come before and the work that still has yet to be done.

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What About New Jersey, You Guys?

Can we back up a second and talk about New Jersey’s oyster scene? In full honesty, I was really skeptical about eating oysters from New Jersey at the beginning. But one trip to the original Forty North Oyster Farm location with my friends from the New York Oyster Meetup changed my mind. My visit to Cape May and learning about the The Oyster Farmers documentary further fueled my enthusiasm. NJ oystermen and women have survived some tough shit and their hard work deserves more credit at the raw bar. (So ahem, restauranteurs & chefs: please stop changing the origin of NJ oysters to “Delaware” or something else ridiculous. Own it. Be proud.)

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Back to the farm. The low tide exposed a few hundred yards of densely packed sand. Although the tides here aren’t terribly large (~5ft), the gradual incline of the beach can play a visual trick on you. The water averages around 25ppt salinity, and Brian noted that it’s never lower than 23ppt.

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Brian handed me a pair of hip waders and we waddled — or at least I waddled — out to the farm crew. As we approached the workbench, I could hear the croquet-esque clunking of the shells on the table. The guys were sorting through the bags, putting like sizes together. For the most part Cape May Salts are grown out using off-bottom rack and bag gear. This method works quite well for this kind of environment. Brian would come out here every day to conduct quality checks, which I also suspect is code for “breakfast of champions.” 😉

Of course, no farm tour is complete without a taste test. My favorite part, obviously. It wasn’t terribly hot out that day, but to be safe Brian brought along a small cooler of ice-packed Cape May Salts that were recently harvested to try. It still amazes me that every Cape May Salt that I’ve had in my life came from this exact spot. Unless if you belong to a CSA, when else do you have that certainty about where your food comes from?

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Brian popped one open in a snap. Just look at that plumpness. Now that’s what I call a premium meat-to-shell ratio.

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The Future

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. I received a package containing a brand new oyster that Brian has been working on at the farm. Same site, different method. Always happy to play the guinea pig for friends, I was immediately excited by the look of these. As of right now, it’s a nameless product. But for the oyster nerds who are reading this (and see the photos below), you probably can guess just how they’re grown.

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One of the newest innovations in oyster grow out technique/technology is the tide-powered “flip bag” method, which was first developed at Chelsea Farms by John Lentz and Tom Bloomfield. The idea of using the tides to literally do the heavy lifting for growers has spread pretty widely across the Pacific Northwest, but this is the first time that I’ve heard of an East Coast farm attempting to do it (unless if I’m having a total brain fart and can’t think of any others). Anyone want to correct me here?

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Anyway, these little nuggets are beauties and ridiculously cute. I immediately fell in love with the petite size, walnut shape, and uber plumpness. They’re super easy to shuck because the shells are thick and sturdy. There wasn’t much chipping at all, which made for a great slurping experience.

For good measure, Brian included a bag of Cape May Salts in the box as well for comparison’s sake. The flavor of the “Oyster X” was fairly similar to the original, but perhaps a smidge less saline. The texture was really what set them apart. Tender yet firm, meaty yet light, and juicy. Atlantic Cape Fisheries just needs to acquire Arby’s and steal their tagline. #WEHAVETHEMEATS

 

Many thanks to Brian Harman for your support and patience while I overcome a serious case of blogging-procrastination. 🙂

Oyster KnowledgeJuly 10, 2016

Natural Wine 101 and Oyster Pairing with Sommelier Doreen Winkler

Before meeting Doreen Winkler, a natural wines expert and founder of Diamond Sommelier Services, I had honestly no idea what natural wines were all about. The two words sounded superfluous together, or maybe even “marketing-esque” at first. Then a few months ago, we hosted a Natural Wine and Oyster Pairing class together at Sel Rrose, and she opened my eyes to this growing niche. Here’s what I learned (and what you need to know):

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What is natural wine?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a complete layman when it comes to wine. I had a romantic view of winemaking as an artisanal, non-industrial process. Apparently, that’s only a small fraction of the industry today. The term “natural wine” is a broad umbrella that includes organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wine. Natural wine is about 1% of the wine produced in the world today. Note that not all organic wines are necessarily considered to be “natural.”

Instead of trying to sort out all of the labels (biodynamic vs organic vs sustainable), I found it easier to think of natural wine as a philosophy. “In the end is just about making wine that is a natural product with as little intervention as possible,” explained Doreen. It is a traditional view of wine as an expression of specific terroir and grape varieties, with minimal interference by the winemaker. So what does that mean from a technical standpoint? Here’s a summary from Urban Earth Wines:

For a wine to be considered natural, it must be also be vinified as naturally as possible. This means that after it has been cultivated organically or biodynamically, there must be a minimum use of additives and technological manipulations. Examples of additives include sugar, acidifiers, and powdered tannins. Manipulations can include the use of spinning cones to remove alcohol, micro-oxygenation to accelerate aging, and the use of laboratory cultivated yeast.

The key aspects of what we consider to be a natural wine are:

  • No synthetic molecules in the vines
  • Plowing or other solutions to avoid chemical herbicides.
  • Use of indigenous yeast
  • Handpicked grapes
  • Low to no filtering
  • Low to no sulfites
  • Winemaking that respects the grapes: no pumping or rough handling of the grapes, no micro-oxygenation.
  • No chaptalization

Additives in Wine

Let’s talk a little bit more about what’s actually in wine. In the US, there is a surprisingly large number of additives, cleansers, and fining agents are allowed to be used in the winemaking process—over 200 some claim. I was shocked to learn this from Doreen, and surprised that there wasn’t more reporting about it or alarm. Last spring, CBS broke a story about a Denver laboratory finding high levels of arsenic in a number of California wines. That news and subsequent class lawsuit have since been smoldered and cast aside. Despite our national obsession with organic and chemical-free anything nowadays, we don’t have that much transparency into our favorite fermented grape juice. “There are almost no federal labeling requirements to tell you what’s really in wine,” according to CBS. I find it strange that we know more about what’s in our shampoo than what we’re all drinking on a weekly (maybe daily for some?) basis.

Just for the record: I’m not against additives in wine. I’d just like to know what’s in it so I can make better informed decisions! Oh, and I bet that I’m not alone. It will be interesting to see how the natural wines niche grows, and through it, bring more attention to the fact that we’re all sipping on some pretty delicious ignorance right now.

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Evolution through natural wine selection

I don’t have the time to become a wine expert myself, so thank goodness for sweet and knowledgeable somms like Doreen. When she’s consulting for her clients—like Sel Rrose—she challenges herself to curate wine lists that are both unique in taste and story. Natural wine folks are often seen as extremists and the uber-hippies of the industry. Doreen takes a more practical approach.

“I choose wineries that are organically farmed and have biodynamic practices. I don’t care if they are certified; it’s more about the lifestyle and meaning than the certification. Keep in mind that it takes 15 years to become biodynamic certified and a lot of money!”

It’s worth mentioning that Doreen didn’t start out as a natural wine specialist. As this part of the wine industry grew, so did Doreen’s expertise. She walked me through several of the milestones that led her to where she is now: hotel management school, an amazing job in Switzerland, consulting for Chef Fredrik Berselius, and starting her own wine & restaurant consulting practice. Above all, working with Berselius seemed to be the catalyst to her deep appreciation for natural wines.

“At the time, I hadn’t had many good [natural wines], and decided to take some time to really search them out for myself.” Doreen must feel the same way about winery/importer visits as I do for oyster farm tours. 🙂

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Meroir, terroir, and Doreen’s pairing tips

Pairing oysters with natural wines is very satisfying in principle and practice, as there are many parallels you can draw between the two worlds. Both are basically created with simply what mother nature has provided, and in turn, both spark that “sense of place” that forces you to look up from your phone or stop mid-sentence, and to earnestly pay attention.

When a pairing works, they should be seen as true partners. “A good pairing changes the experience… it melds [the two elements] together.” Doreen offered a few basic guidelines of how to do this well:

When you’re pairing wine to brinier, leaner oysters, start with lighter, more minerally wines. “Minerality balances out salt.”

When pairing with creamier, more vegetal oysters, experiment with richer wines that have vibrant acidity.

For oysters that are clearly sweet and fat, perhaps a rosé champagne or a more fruit-forward white (that’s still bone dry) would do the trick.

Most importantly, don’t worry so much about what’s right and what’s wrong.”For oyster pairings, one should have a little bit more fun.” It’s all about having an open mind and willing to try new things.

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Further reading…

NPR “What The Heck Is Natural Wine?”

Food Republic “How Natural Wine Is Driving The Lower East Side Dining Scene”

Vogue “Why Wild, Chemical-Free, “Natural” Wines Are Taking the Industry by Storm”