"Virginia Is For Lovers" isn't just a sweet state slogan. It hints at a wondrous new world for epicureans everywhere. At the recent Virginia Craft Event held in Chelsea Market, NYC's most insatiable foodies were treated to a stunning array of homemade and hand-grown culinary delights from VA. Oysters, of course, were one of the highlights.

Virginia Craft Event
As far as tasting events go, the Virginia Tourism Corp and BCF Agency really nailed it. This semi-private media shindig was tastefully curated on all fronts — from the food & beverage representation to the venue (who doesn’t love Chelsea Market) to the decor (the beautiful chalkboard art by Carolina Ro Knight) to the design of paper goods (love the sleeve and invite).

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Yay for oyster reunions! It was nice to catch up with my friends from H.M. Terry, Pleasure House Oysters, and Shooting Point Oysters as well as meeting Travis and Ryan Croxton from Rappahannock River Oyster Co. If  you’re still of the mindset that an oyster is an oyster, think again. While these four companies all grow the same oyster species — Crassostrea virginica — no operation and product are alike, and hopping from one oyster table to the next and tasting the differences between each micro-region is what I live for!

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It’s been over a year since I’ve had the ultra boutique Pleasure House Oysters from Lynnhaven River and they are just as meaty and delicious as I remember them to be. Grower Chris Ludford estimates that the salt content from that day’s oysters were around 22-24 ppt (and has since gone up to 26-28 ppt due to lack of rain and heat), which can be broadly reinterpreted as “medium brininess.” It balanced quite nicely with the rich, buttery meat. Although Chris prefers to shuck his oysters on demand, I really liked the presentation of these PHO’s over the dark, leafy kale leaves. It makes for a beautifully styled photo, don’t you think?

I also tried my very first raw pea crab on a Pleasure House Oyster. That… was an experience. :O I have a video of me doing the deed and *might* consider posting it later…

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Across the way were Tom Gallivan’s Shooting Point Oysters. Each plate showcased two different slurps: the signature Shooting Point Salt oyster grown on the sea side of Eastern Virginia (water salinity: 32-33 ppt) and the Nassawadox Salt oyster that’s grown on the bay side (22-23 ppt). It was interesting to compare and contrast the two. The Nassawadox’s were consistently rounder in shape and deeper cupped. The meat was a bit creamier than the Shooting Point Salts. The colors and construction of the shells were also telling of the different environment that they were each grown in.

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Here we have the Sewansecott Oyster by H.M. Terry, my very first Virginia oyster love (on the left). The company’s bread and butter is actually their massive clam business, but their seaside oyster grown out of Hog Island Bay on the Eastern Shore has made quite the name for itself. After years (seriously) of talking about it, I’m finally going to go check out their farm during the week of July 4th.

Meanwhile, the Rappahannock River Oyster Company were also showing off their famous slurps: the Rappahannock Oyster grown at the mouth of the Rappahannock near Topping, VA (water salinity: 13-17 ppt) and their seaside oyster, Olde Salt (28-33 ppt). Not only are these guys pro oyster growers, but pro oyster storytellers too. They were some of the first to help change perceptions about Chesapeake oysters from commodity to differentiated/specialty product. At the event, Travis Croxton also gave me the hard sell about visiting their one-of-a-kind oyster tasting room: Merroir. 😛

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In addition to slurping a hearty helping of oysters during my time at the event, I got a chance to sip and savor many different beverages and bites. It didn’t take long for me to become particularly fixated on one cocktail — A smoked Old Fashioned mixed by Mattias Häglund of Heritage in Richmond, VA with Belle Isle Moonshine. The standard Old Fashioned is usually way too strong for me. This one, however, was just right! I’m a total newb when it comes to cocktail creation, but I really loved the addition of local maple syrup and booze-infused cinnamon to give it that warming “sugar and spice” layer. It paired nicely with the Virginia trout and acorn cracker bite by Chef Travis Milton of Comfort/Pasture in Richmond, VA

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The most interesting drink preparation was by mixologist Todd Trasher of PX/Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, VA. After five or six sturdy, double-handed shakes in the air, the cocktail was poured and topped with the lightest of the light foams. A beautiful mad science project! 

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Two other bites that I loved include: the slow-cooked lamb from Border Springs Farm in Patrick Springs, VA, prepared by chef Ian Boden of the Shack in Staunton, VA, and the lump blue crab dish prepared by Harper Bradshaw of Harper’s Table in Suffolk, VA.

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This was a great “teaser” for my upcoming Virginia trip. I’m headed down to the Eastern Shore of Virginia during the last week of June to eat oysters, go fishing, and relax on the beach. Perhaps there will be even more to discover once I really put on my “Lovers” hat.

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Many thanks to Pleasure House Oysters, Virginia Tourism and BCF Agency for the invite!