Murder Point. I can’t think of a better oyster to write about for Halloween, can you? If you’ve never heard of them, well, you’re in for a treat. Murder Points are hand-raised off the coast of Alabama. They are plump, buttery, and totally unexpected for a Gulf-originating oyster. The Zirlott family is fairly new to this particular shell game, but oystering has always been in their blood. This past summer, I had a chance to visit MPO’s original grow-out site with team #butterlove Lane Zirlott, Jason Lee and Beth Walton. Here are six things that makes them so scary good to me…

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#1 Murder Point ACTUALLY Exists

Murder Point Oysters are grown near a location that was once known as Myrtle Point. The wild oyster industry was booming at the time, and people made their homes and livelihood on the water. Then in 1927, a heated dispute about an oyster lease erupted between two families. One guy went up to the other and shot him dead with a shotgun… right on his front porch! Ever since the incident, Myrtle Point was known as Murder Point.

As you can imagine that those were probably some pretty damn good oysters. In fact, Murder Point’s slogan is, “Oysters worth killing for.” Very fitting indeed!

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2. Despite the menacing oyster name, the Zirlotts are the sweetest

The Zirlotts have been in the commercial shrimping business for generations, but oystering runs in their blood. Brent told me about his great grandfather’s oyster license dated back to 1892 (I found a copy of it on their website, which I also posted to show you below). As a way to diversify and sustain the family business, they approached oyster farming with an open mind and open heart. I met nearly the entire immediate family at the Boston Seafood Expo earlier this year, and their passion for the work was immediately obvious.

Oyster farming, unlike shrimping, sparked a very deep sense of stewardship in the Zirlotts. They loved the fact that growing oysters was so hands on. “What you put in shows in what you get out,” was one of Lane’s favorite notions.

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3. This style of oyster farming is brand new around here

Oysters aren’t new to Alabama, but off-bottom, intensive aquaculture is. Alabama historically processes more oysters in the Gulf than any other state and they’re mostly traditional bottom-planted, dredged oysters from all over. While there’s nothing inherently problematic with that, the challenges of delivering a consistent quality and quantity created an opportunity for folks to do things differently. The notion of raising and marketing an artisanal “branded” oyster from the Gulf was pretty much unheard of until the last couple of years.

In 2012, the Zirlotts were among one of the first families to enroll in a brand new aquaculture training course led by Dr. Bill Walton, head of the Auburn Shellfish Lab.On the first day of Bill’s class, Rosa was the only one who showed up. After months of immersing themselves in this new kind of oyster culture, they were given a “final exam” that was comprised of growing 25,000 oysters. After that point, the Zirlott family was hooked. They decided to raise an additional 500,000 oysters on their own. The arrival of The Waltons to Alabama from Cape Cod is rather pivotal this story, but I’ll have to talk more about my favorite “Oyster Power Couple” and the Auburn Shellfish Lab in the next post…

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4. Oyster hazing comes with the experience

When we were out on the oyster lease in June, it was 80-something degrees. On a typical oyster lease in the Gulf, you would just see a few tall PVC pipes sticking out of the water. Here, it looks more like a vineyard without any vines. Lane pulled up next to one of the long lines (Murder Point Oysters are raised in an Australian longline system by SEAPA) and lifted a basket of oysters out of the hazy, mossy green water. He proceeded to shuck a couple oysters to hand off for a mini photo shoot.

Here is where it got interesting, because for a moment (JUST A MOMENT), my instincts and sense of propriety got the better of me. I know, like any savvy oyster aficionado should know, that the “R-month rule” is defunct. However, the idea of eating a live animal that came out of a balmy body of water in mid-summer still feels risky. I looked at the freshly shucked Murder Point and then to the water it came from. Could I eat it? Should I eat it? I wanted to try it for sure, but nobody was offering. No one said, “Want to try it?” So I proceeded with caution.

While I hesitated, Lane nonchalantly mentioned that Adam and Lissa from Hama Hama had tried his oysters the day before. Well now I definitely knew that it would be OK. And that was the exact moment when I discovered that Lane, bless his heart, was testing me…he made a secret bet with Beth predicting that I would react the way that I did, and that I had succumbed to peer pressure in the end.

But just to show them that #NOPEERPRESSURE was involved, I ate three. The oysters were lukewarm, mildly salty, sublimely buttery, and as relaxed as an afternoon on the beach. An excellent experience by any measure.

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5. The size, shape, color, and taste defy everything you thought you knew about Gulf oysters

Instead of a super large, hunkin’ glob of meat, Murder Point Oysters are petite and newbie-friendly. They’re about 2.5-2.75 inches long and deeply cupped. They remind me a lot of what a Kusshi looks like. Very pruned and pretty.

Because these oysters never touch the floor, their shells also glisten with pearly white tones. They’re fast growing, but aren’t brittle. I’ve used Murder Point Oysters in my first Oyster Omakase and they were one of the easiest oysters to shuck and serve.

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6. Their signature oyster knife is known as “The Shank” (How badass is that?)

Enough said. I’ve got one in my collection and whenever I use it at events, my guests are mesmerized… and maybe just a tad scared.

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Many thanks to The Zirlotts and The Waltons for your amazing southern hospitality! Hope to see y’all again soon. Finally, I’ll leave you with this lovely gem of a video that just came out by Bone & Seed:

Additional reading about the new Alabama Oyster Culture

The Gospel of the Alabama Oyster by Southern Foodways Alliance

Oysters, Alabama Style by Jennifer Stewart Kornegay & Fernando Decillisfor for The Bitter Southerner