As I eagerly prepare my Thanksgiving oyster stuffing to cap off Virginia Oyster Month, I am particularly thankful for the hardworking men and women who raise my oysters. Virginia is now the East Coast leader for shellfish production, and that’s because of a persevering industry.
Playing an essential, behind-the-scenes, role are the shellfish hatchery facility managers located all around the Chesapeake Bay. These innovators are part veterinarian, part scientist, and part parent who rear oyster larvae, or “seed,” that oyster growers buy to cultivate on their farms in Virginia and all over the East Coast.
Hatchery managers are committed to delivering a consistent product supply. Yet, their efforts alone are not enough to successfully raise oysters-- they need healthy waters for the bivalves to grow. As Mike Congrove, Hatchery Manager of Oyster Seed Holdings in Grimstead, VA puts it, “Few people are more concerned about water quality than hatcheries because we really rely on it for optimal oyster health and survival.” Hatcheries have benefited from Virginia’s sparkling waters to raise and protect the oysters in their earliest, most vulnerable life stages.
In 2013, however, Virginia hatcheries began suffering unexplained, intermittent production issues that amounted to thousands of dollars in losses.
Hatchery managers collaborated with scientists to determine the cause leading many of these managers to wonder whether “ocean acidification” was the problem. Ocean acidification is a change in water chemistry of the ocean, coasts and rivers that stems from too much carbon dioxide in the water.
Virginia’s shellfish-growing water spans the salty Atlantic Ocean, fresh rivers and streams draining several states, and everything between.
While the industry is still learning how acidification is playing out in Virginia Waters (see video), the importance of the collaboration between researchers and hatcheries to monitor it cannot be understated. Additionally, federal lawmakers are now joining private industry and scientists to support studying and protecting Virginia’s water quality and the businesses and people who rely on it. Representative Don Beyer (VA-8th) recently cosponsored legislation to examine the vulnerability of coastal communities to ocean acidification.
By supporting growers and hatcheries, not only are we sustaining the investments they make into monitoring and scientific research, but also we are giving thanks for their efforts to protect a precious natural resource – our water.
We are so fortunate to have such dedicated “watchers of the water” in our own backyard and can express our thankfulness by eating more oysters farmed here in Virginia.
Special thanks to our contributing writer, Ryan Ono, Program Manager for the Ocean Acidification Program at Ocean Conservancy, a national environmental non-profit organization based in Washington, DC.
Visit the Virginia Oyster Trail Calendar of Events regularly for listings of upcoming activities and events.
Join us for the 2017 Virginia Aquaculture Conference, November 17-18 at the Newhttp://www.vims.edu/port News Marriott, Center City. Featuring a very special keynote address by renowned chef, sustainable seafood advocate and author, Barton Seaver!
The aquaculture industry in Virginia is made up of bivalve shellfish, marine and freshwater finfish and freshwater prawn industries.
This is an industry conference, providing an opportunity to learn about current and upcoming issues, explore new developments in culture technology, and interact with others with similar interests.
Although industry focused, with the rising interest in home-based oyster gardening, this event promises to be an immersion and networking extravaganza for any serious grower in our state.
Here’s is a SMALL sample of the breakouts sessions (click here for more):
The Virginia Aquaculture Conference is hosted by Virginia Institute of Marine Science and is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Agriculture, Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Agency, Virginia Tourism Corporation and industry organizations like the Shellfish Growers of Virginia, Virginia Aquaculture Association and Virginia Oyster Trail.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has a three-part mission to conduct research in coastal ocean and estuarine science, educate students and citizens, and provide advisory service to policy makers, industry, and the public. VIMS provides these services to Virginia, the nation, and the world.
VIMS and its federal partners offer a wide variety of free public programs, both on the VIMS campus in Gloucester Point and at venues throughout Hampton Roads and the lower Chesapeake Bay region.
Looking for a memorable day trip that’s fun for the whole family? Make a break for the Chesapeake Bay with a Watermen’s Heritage Tour.
This time of year is just right for getting out on the Bay to see how oysters and crabs are harvested, catch sightings of dolphins, and learn about the Bay firsthand. For a preview of tour fun, watch the short video below.
It is well known that the Chesapeake Bay provides abundant seafood, but have you ever thought about how that seafood makes its way to your plate? Virginia has a rich heritage of working watermen and women who fish responsibly. When you take a tour with a watermen captain you get to see the Bay through their eyes and understand how connected their livelihood is to a healthy Chesapeake. For watermen, the Chesapeake Bay is essentially their office. Watermen rely on all of us to do our part in keeping their office clean.
During the tours, captains talk about Chesapeake Bay ecology and fun facts about Bay animals, like an oyster’s interesting life cycle. Any tour with one of our captains will likely include mention of how important oyster shells are–not just for the oyster that produces it, but also for generations of oysters to follow. Oysters begin life as free-swimming larvae that must find a hard surface to settle on or they will not survive. Oysters grow best on other oyster shells, which is why it’s important to return oyster shells to the Bay after harvests. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation works with local restaurants to collect and recycle their oyster shells. Those shells are put back into the water for restoration projects so we can all continue to enjoy oysters.
If you have never experienced the unmitigated joy of an oyster fresh out of the Chesapeake Bay, make plans to do so this year. Watermen captains give you a new appreciation for the Bay’s bounty and the amazing complexity of a healthy Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
Virginia Watermen's Heritage Tours is holding three new training courses for captains this winter. The courses offered this year are:
All courses will run from 5-8 pm and include materials and resources for you to develop your own tours, access to professional advisors, and opportunities to develop important community partners.
To reserve your spot in one of these FREE training sessions, please call Rappahannock Community College at (804) 333-6828 today.
As local artist Patty Richards spends an afternoon in her studio in Kilmarnock, VA, she imagines the waves and wildlife splashing up against the white boots of local watermen....the men and women who are the backbone of the region's coastal culture and essential to the Virginia oyster.
With every brush stroke, Richards is working to turn her vision into a work of art as a part of the Watemen’s Way white boots community art project. “I’ve loved the people I’ve met and the sense of collaboration I’ve felt,” she said about the art project, which will highlight spots along the Virginia Oyster Trail.
Richards still has a few deadrise boats to draw onto her completed boots, which stand 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide. They will soon be sealed, mounted and permanently sitting at the Steamboat Era Museum. The boots are one of 15 pairs placed at restaurants, art galleries, and favorites spots around the area. An exhibition initiative that opened on July 1, 2017, each pair of boots is personalized by a local artist, drawing from themes that reflect the lives of the people who not only wear the boots, but people who call the area home.
“We want to show appreciation for where our seafood comes from and how these watermen risk themselves to bring it to our tables here and throughout the country,” said Susan Cockrell, Kilmarnock Deputy Town Manager and one of the partners responsible for creating and managing Watermen’s Way.
As you visit, share photos of yourself stepping into the boots, mention the Watermen's Way Facebook page, and tag Virginia Oyster Trail on Instagram and Twitter (@VAOysterTrail). #watermensway #getyourbootson #boots
Our Contributing Writer: Megan Wilson, blogger for Virginia's River Realm
When you think about oysters a lot of things come to mind: oyster bars, oyster stouts, oyster roasts. You may even think about the amazing ability oysters have to filter water, or the habitat they provide for underwater critters. But have you ever wondered whether you can keep an oyster as a pet? The answer is YES. Well, sort of.
Since 1997 the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has run an oyster gardening program that lets regular people raise oysters at home for efforts to boost the wild oyster population. If you are lucky enough to live along the waters of our beautiful Chesapeake Bay or its tidal rivers, you can garden right off your dock or bulkhead. If you don’t live along the water, there are many public locations where you can grow oysters.
So far the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has over 250 growers in Virginia. Many come back year after year to take part in this fun and rewarding way to help save the bay.
“Growing oysters is like my yoga. I come out here on the dock and lose myself in the world of these oysters,” said Claire Neubert, an oyster gardener on the Hampton River. “Each one of them is a little bit different, kind of like a snowflake. And the best part is that they are going to go back into our rivers to help clean our waterways and provide habitat. It gives me a great feeling to be able to do that.”
This June there are seven events across Virginia that let folks get started in oyster gardening.
Each gardener receives two small cages about the size of a shoe box to hang in the water off a dock or bulkhead. One will have baby oysters, called spat, about the size of your pinky nail. The second cage will be used when the oysters get too big for the first cage.
Many of the Bay’s critters are attracted to oyster reefs. American eels, fish, shrimp, crabs, a few seahorses and even A TOADFISH might inhabit your oyster gardening cages. Blue crabs could be curious as to what’s in your cage, entering it when they’re small. After a few molts, these big blues will be too large to exit the cage and will look at your oysters as a buffet. If your baby oysters got eaten, you may have a sudden craving for some crab dip, just saying!
Throughout the next year, gardeners can watch their oysters grow and eventually spawn, helping to increase the local population. After one year, gardeners return the full-grown oysters to CBF in exchange for new babies. CBF takes the adult oysters to plant onto a nearby protected sanctuary oyster reef to continue their amazing ecological work.
Contributing Writer, Heather North is a CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration Specialist.
During your next visit along the Virginia Oyster Trail, as you sit down at one of our local restaurants to enjoy one of the 8 regional flavors of this Virginia delicacy, relish in knowing the many hard-working families who, for generations, have been pulling these bivalves from our coastal waters and delivering to your plate.
CLICK HERE to check out the best of local oysters at restaurants across our coastal region and beyond.
“When the first settlers began exploring Virginia’s waterways, oyster reefs were so large that they were navigation hazards,” said Bill Hight, long-time Urbanna resident and owner and operator of Urbanna Auto and Marine.
Through war, depressions and even disease, oysters have fed families on the battlefield, in their homes and on the tables of the country’s best restaurants. Families who have relied so heavily on oysters have dedicated their lives to learning how to harvest, shuck, sell, ship, cook, grow and eat the rich, sustainable resource.
“From the boating industry to restaurants, the oyster industry has driven every aspect of our history here on the Bay,” Hight said. “It’s the family businesses that are still here today.”
The term "shucking house" not only represents the place where oysters are shucked in preparation for market, it is also a well-know reference to the family-owned oyster "houses," their entwined lifestyle and businesses that are the backbone of Virginia's oyster industry.
Tommy Kellum of W. E. Kellum Seafood is a part of the third generation of his family who owns and operates a shucking house in Weems, VA. Tommy’s great grandfather W. Ellery Kellum started the business in 1948. Today, Tommy and his brothers provide jobs to the region’s commercial waterman, oyster shuckers, truck drivers and more. Together, they produce nearly 600,000 bushels a year.
“The oyster industry has lasted longer than any other resource-driven industry,” Kellum said. “Even after the MSX disease that wiped out most of the oysters in the 1990s, we’ve been able to come back and even grow.”
W. E. Kellum Seafood joins other local shucking houses which are run by second, third, and even fourth generation families. Shooting Point Oysters, H.M. Terry, Shores & Ruark and Bevans Seafood, are but a few.
“We’ve learned and grown a lot over the years,” says Rufus Ruark of Shores & Ruark. Ruark’s father opened the shucking house in 1976. “Aquaculture has played a pivotal role in grounding and sustaining the oyster industry.”
Families behind the shucking businesses like Shores & Ruark have learned how to help oysters grow by saving shells, letting them age, placing them in bins with larva and then planting them strategically throughout the bay.
Although aquaculture has advanced, growing oysters for some, the process for getting the oysters from water to table, is still relatively much the same. “We still use shaft tongs and you still have to shuck the oysters by hand,” Ruark said.
According to Larry Chowning, local writer an oyster industry expert, this hasn’t slowed the growth of the industry in recent years. “Today, Virginia produces half a million bushels of oysters a year and shucking houses are not only at the heart of our region’s economic success but also social and environmental success as well,” Chowning said. “If local businesses continue to market the oyster and the area, and they are smart about how they harvest and grow oysters, we should see continued growth”
As we head into the travel season, Virginia Oyster festivals abound where you can enjoy seeing some of those who spend their days working in oyster shucking houses. They come out to compete in “best shucker” contests, like at the well known Urbanna Oyster Festival.
You might even be lucky enough to take a lesson or two from one of these master shuckers like world champion Deborah Pratt and her sister, national champion Clementine Macon. Two fantastic ambassadors for Virginia’s oyster industry!
Virginia shucking houses send oysters across the country for families in other states to enjoy. For example, W.E. Kellum Seafood’s oysters can be found in major retail settings like Kroger, Whole Foods, Captain D’s and more. When visiting Virginia Oyster Country you can find Kellum's oysters at Virginia Oyster Trail restaurants such as The Chesapeake at the Tides Inn, Willaby’s Restaurant, Byrd’s Seafood, The Dining Hall at the Hope and Glory Inn. Shores & Ruark also ships around the country in addition to supplying local markets where you will find prepared foods and freshly cooked items to take home and enjoy.
Across Virginia's 8 Oyster Flavor Regions, as you indulge your oyster palette, be sure to ask each restaurant, market and/or retail outlet who supplies their oysters.
“Family to Table” makes the story of Virginia’s oysters personal, highlighting the connections that infuse each signature dish with a sense of community, a steadfast work ethic and cultural pride.
This White Boot Bog feature is sponsored by Virginia Oyster Country. Contributing writer Megan Wilson.
Visit the Virginia Oyster Trail Calendar of Events regularly for listings of upcoming activities and events.
It's All About the Shell, 'bout the Shell...No Trouble!
As the lyric of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, with its many tributaries ebb and flow in seasonal rhythms of bounty and balance, Virginia Oysters are an anchoring base note resonating health and sustainability on an orchestral scale.
When oysters are seeded and grown throughout our coastal waters they consume algae and remove nitrogen thus improving water quality. Did you know that one adult oyster cleans 50 gallons of water per day? Oyster reefs provide shoreline protection that can prevent coastline erosion from storm surges while preserving important habitat areas that provide refuge for other aquatic species.
OYSTER SHELL RECYCLING IS INSTRUMENTAL!
From seed to table, many individuals, businesses and communities are working in harmony to steward Virginia Oysters through shell recycling to help promote the resilience and vibrancy of Virginia's coastal waterways.
It’s a commonly known practice for watermen operations that provide shucked oysters to their consumers to recycle shells in an effort to perpetuate their oyster beds. Restaurants are joining the chorus as they collect shells and provide them to local recycling efforts for reef-building projects.
One community-devoted reef building group is Lynnhaven River Now (LRNow), located in Virginia Beach, VA. In 2007, part of the Lynnhaven River was reopened for oyster harvest after many decades of being closed due to high bacteria levels. With the opening came a celebration of the native Lynnhaven Oyster as many restaurants were again serving the local delicacy. Initially, when these restaurants shucked the oysters, the shells were going into the trash. LRNow decided to try to make these shells useful again and upon receiving a grant designed a shell collection program, three month pilot project. They enlisted seven restaurants, training their staff, providing collection cans and funding shell pick-ups. They also set up two public drop off locations as their members became more aware so that households could also begin recycling their shells. The program continues today, is year ‘round and has engaged 25 restaurants and 5 public drop off locations. Additionally, they collect shells from as many as 20 special events throughout the year noting that in 2016 they collected 3,600 bushels of shell that are not going into the trash and are available to build sanctuary reef and restore their river's native oyster population.
This spring of 2017, LRNow will build an acre and a half of sanctuary oyster reef in the Eastern Branch of the Lynnhaven River using 20,000 bushels of shells saved from the trash so those shells can do the work they are meant to do: provide habitat for more oysters that will contribute to the cleansing of their waterway.
In addition to Lynnhaven River Now, checkout Virginia Oyster Trail members, The Nature Conservancy and Chesapeake Bay Foundation as well as the many restaurants, watermen, cultural sites and community groups who recycle their shells. Recycling members identify themselves by a recycling symbol on the top of their trail member pages.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “Oyster shells for restoration are becoming increasingly scarce….On average, each recycled shell can become home to dozens of those baby oysters, called spat. CBF provides the spat-on-shell to its oyster gardeners and plants them in rivers and the Bay to grow and expand oyster reefs.”
1. Find out where you can recycle your household oyster shells (be sure to separate the shells from your regular trash and hold them in a vented container to reduce odor while they dry out before you drop them off).
2. Praise the restaurants, festivals and other locations where you enjoy Virginia’s variety of 8 oyster flavors and who are participating in shell recycling efforts across the Commonwealth.
Share your Virginia Oyster experiences with us on the Virginia Oyster Trail Facebook page and join in the chorus to strengthen the resilience and vitality of Virginia’s coastal waters and oyster industry…it’s about the shell!
Visit the Virginia Oyster Trail Calendar of Events regularly for listings of upcoming activities and events.
Are oysters really aphrodisiacs? Perhaps, but the reason why is not based on scientific evidence. Several years ago, scientists seemed to confirm that oysters had mystical love-inducing properties. The actual research tells a different story.
Over a decade ago in Naples, Italy, researchers discovered that mussels contain an amino acid, D-Aspartic acid, which increases the level of sex hormones in lab rats. When the team presented their findings, they used the word “aphrodisiac” in the presentation title to entice their audience. It worked. News stories around the globe picked up the story. However, the claim that the oyster is a powerful libido-boosting food is scientifically false. The study looked at mussels, not oysters, and assessed D-Aspartic acid’s impact on lab rats, not humans.
To understand why oysters gained a reputation for such sex power, we look to history rather than science. Oysters served as a staple food source for average ancient Romans to poor Victorians alike, because the abundance of oysters meant that they sold for cheap. That didn’t last. Nearly eaten out of existence, oyster populations declined. When oysters became more difficult to come by, they transformed into a luxury food item that only the wealthy could afford. Oysters are making a comeback today, but eating them still signifies a certain amount of wealth. Like it or not, wealth can be a powerful attractor.
Oysters are considered aphrodisiacs because of their cultural value. In scientific terms, it’s the placebo effect. If you convince yourself it will work, it just might. Cultural reasons abound for the myth. Some believe oysters are powerful because the famed Venetian lover Casanova ate oysters every morning to maintain his stamina. Others point out that oysters resemble a certain aspect of female anatomy. Many believe that the way people eat oysters is the real culprit.
Eating oysters does have other proven benefits. They filter the water around them for food and are a vital part of a healthy underwater ecosystem. Oysters are a tasty way to get protein. The Virginia Aquarium’s Sensible Seafood Program lists oysters as one of the most sustainable seafood choices. Plus, buying Virginia oysters supports the local watermen and women who harvest and grow them.
So, eat Virginia Oysters on Valentine’s Day and throughout the year, regardless of what you believe about their aphrodisiac properties.
Written by Leslie Clements, Virginia Aquarium’s Sensible Seafood Program, Virginia Beach, Virginia
“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” wrote Jonathan Swift, the Irish poet and author of Gulliver’s Travels. But what about the brewer who first put oysters into a boiling brew?
Well, it turns out, he in fact was influenced by over 100 years of people naturally pairing beer with oysters—a marriage that dates back to Victorian England when “…porters and stouts were everyday beers,” wrote renowned beer writer Michael Jackson in The Independent in 1995. “And oysters [were] a bar snack as commonplace as peanuts today.”
To complement the briny, juicy, fleshy quality of the oyster meat, these pub-goers often chose stout beers for their bittersweet notes of roasted malt and toasted bread. The pairing became such a classic that Guinness launched an advertising campaign in the 1920s with the tagline, “Guinness Goes With Oysters.”
Toward the end of the 19th century, brewers discovered that the calcium carbonate-rich oyster shells served as a natural clarifying agent. “Lots of breweries and taverns used shells as filters,” says Washington D.C.-based beer historian Mike Stein, who gives talks on the science and history of brewing at the Smithsonian Museum. “They balanced the beer, made it brighter and fresher.”
In the 1930s, an unknown (and quite brilliant) brewer in New Zealand took the final leap by adding the oyster meat itself into the brewing process, an idea likely fueled by an urge to add subsistence and a certain quality of mouthfeel to the product, the way that lactose adds to a milk stout.
“Oyster stout” as we know it today remained a rare offering throughout the 20th century until now as adventurous craft brewers recognize the style as a unique way to experiment with stout beers. For breweries like the O’Connor Brewing Company in Norfolk, Virginia, who embrace their coastal roots as an integral part of their identity, it’s also a compelling way to carry on tradition. Seeking the highest quality ingredients for their Bold Man Oyster Stout, with emphasis on a commitment to sustainability and supporting local businesses, they partnered with the Ballard Fish & Oyster Company, a fifth generation family company who has been sustainably raising and harvesting oysters in Virginia coastal waters since 1895.
The O’Connor Bold Man Oyster Stout showcases Ballard’s finest oyster— the Misty Point - a tasty, plump cultured oyster grown on premium seaside grounds located at the southern tip of the Eastern Shore of Virginia on the Atlantic Ocean side, that have been producing great tasting shellfish for centuries. A top-notch oyster, Misty Points can be found on the plates of some of the finest restaurants in the world. Averaging three inches in size and they are characterized by a high salinity up front that fades into bright, sweet hints of celery and grass. To attain these qualities, Misty Points go through an intense grow-out process. They are grown in an area of heavy tidal flow and are tumbled regularly. This results in their deep cups and thick shells. They begin the grow-out process in a rack and bag system in which they are placed in mesh bags on top of rebar racks. The racks elevate them off of the bottom and the bags keep them safe from predators while allowing ample water flow. After 6-8 months the oysters are transferred to cages where they finish the grow-out process.
After they arrive at O’Connor Brewing Company, roughly 100 Misty Point oysters are cleaned and added to the boiling brew whole, shells and all, per each barrel of Bold Man Oyster Stout. The result is a rich, smooth and subtly briny brew that pairs well with oysters, although doesn’t taste exactly like them. The brewing goal is not to overwhelm the elegant culinary pairing of raw, grilled or fried oysters with an intense oyster-y beer, rather it is to touch on the perfect tasting marriage that pub-goers enjoyed so many years ago.
Great with oysters, a creamy chowder, a spicy paella,gumbo, or bowl of steamed mussels, however you choose to enjoy it, you can certainly do so with the knowledge each sip of Bold Man was created in mindful tradition of Tidewater Virginia’s rich history of aquaculture.
Written by Hannah Serrano, O’Connor Brewing Co., Norfolk, Virginia
Join us as we celebrate the special, limited release of Bold Man Oyster Stout, and the Virginia Oyster Trail. Saturday, January 28, 2017 | 2-5 p.m. | $40 per person
Admission includes: a 6-oyster tasting flight with companion side dishes, one draft beer, live entertainment and a 22 oz. bottle of Bold Man Oyster Stout to take home, plus the chance to win a special Taste of Tidewater tour. Fresh Virginia oysters will be shucked and served on site by Ballard Fish & Oyster Company, with growers and harvesters available to talk about how oysters are grown/harvested and their importance to the health of Virginia’s coastal waterways.
The Bold Man Oyster Stout event is made possible in partnership with O’Connor Brewing Co., the Virginia Oyster Trail, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center’s Sensible Seafood Program and Taste Tidewater Tours. A portion of ticket sales will benefit the Virginia Oyster Trail.
CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.
Continuing in the secret tradition perpetuated when the originator of “Oysters Rockefeller” took his recipe to the grave, many Virginia chefs today serve up this signature dish with an air of mystery.
Generally consisting of a puree of green vegetables, mixed in a savory cream sauce, encrusted with breadcrumbs and baked over each half-shell oyster, this dish is as varied as they come as each chef adds their creative flair.
Spinach? Maybe. Cheese? Possibly. Absinthe? Bacon? Capers? Chives? Breadcrumbs? Your guess is as good as ours!
Make your 2017 resolve to hit the road and sample the many variations of “Oysters Rockefeller” that can be found at restaurants all across the Virginia Oyster Trail.
And, don’t be surprised should you ask for the recipe only to be answered with a signature Cheshire-chef smile!
Ingredients for 6 Virginia Oysters:
First, place the oysters under the broiler or really hot oven for about 1 minute until they barely open up. Remove, and set aside. Be careful not to spill the liquid out of the shell. You don’t want to dry them out.
Crisp 6 pieces of whatever thinly sliced cured meat you will be using. Set aside.
Then, in a small saute pan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of butter. Once the butter is hot, add 1 teaspoon of minced shallot and cook for about 30 seconds until just before it begins to brown. Then add 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Continue to cook for about seconds more. Then add 3/4 cup of chopped arugula and cook about 30 seconds. Add 3/4 oz of Absinthe Pernod. Cook about 15 seconds more. Place mixture into a bowl.
Shave some slices of the cheese with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Set aside.
Next, pop the tops off the cooled oysters and using an oyster knife or paring knife, sever the abductor muscle that anchors the oyster to the bottom of the shell. Remove any bits of shell that may have fallen in with the oyster.
Now for the assembly. On each oyster, place a piece of the crispy cured meat, add about 2 teaspoons of the arugula mixture, and top with the cheese. Return the oysters to the broiler until cheese is browned. Let cool slightly and serve.
The Oyster: Nature’s little gift born and nurtured from the confluence of weather, water, sediment, and time. Each one of these influences standalone on their own their force unstoppable. But together, they mean much more: They become nature’s family tree, each one a root growing into a branch, working together, to create one of nature’s tastier offspring.
The Virginia Oyster’s place at the Thanksgiving table is steeped in history. In 1607, Sir Christopher Newport, Captain John Smith, and his company of 150 men learned the value of these oysters from the native confederacy of Powhatan tribes. They encountered plentiful oyster beds in the bay, along the Lynnhaven, James, and Rappahannock Rivers. Served at the inaugural Thanksgiving feast, oysters have been a significant symbol of this American tradition ever since.
Oysters on the half shell, oyster stew, oyster stuffing, roasted and fried - nothing says Virginia Thanksgiving like serving oysters from the Bay! (Signature recipe below)
Rockafellers’ Signature Oyster Stuffing by Executive Chef, Joy Summers
Heat oven to 250. Arrange bread cubes on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake, stirring occasionally, until dried but not browned, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
Put bacon into a large skillet; cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until crisp and its fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Add 4 tbsp. of the butter and heat. Add shallots and celery, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and translucent. Add oyster liquor, stock, sherry, parsley, thyme, sage, hot sauce, nutmeg, cloves, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the bread cubes and oysters. Set aside to allow the flavors to come together for 10 minutes.
Raise the oven temperature to 400. Transfer mixture to a greased baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, remove foil, drizzle with remaining butter, and continue baking until golden brown and crusty, about 15 minutes more. Serve!
Written by Ben Stone, Rockafellers Restaurant, Virginia Beach
The Rappahannock River. Lynnhaven River. Church Creek. Mobjack Bay. Tangier. Nassawadox Creek. York River. Hog Island Bay. Choptank River. Nanda Creek. James River. Hungars Creek. Chincoteague Bay. Little Wicomico River. Piankatank River. Wright’s Cove. Urbanna Creek.
A few of the local waterways that contribute to making Virginia the oyster capital of the East Coast.
Gallivan. Vogt. Ludford. Leggett. Croxton. Kellam. Bevans. McGee. Pruitt. Terry. Clark. Ruark. Land. Crabbe. Arnold. Nutt. Kellum. Saunders. Moore. Dise. Rose….and many more!
Lesser known and equally important are the names of the women and men on the frontlines of Virginia’s oyster resurgence. A strong sense of obligation to Virginia’s waterways and traditions drive this dedicated small group of individuals who share the Bay’s bounty.
Together they breathe life into Virginia’s waterways.
Spend a few minutes with the women and men who make their life and living on the water and it’s clear that oyster fishing and farming is a calling. A challenging yet rewarding way of life, not a job.
By the time the sun peeks over the eastern horizon each morning, they are already on the water dredging or pulling oyster cages (some up to 800 pounds when full), fixing equipment, cleaning their boats and cages, and sorting oysters ready for market.
Adding to the physical demands, Mother Nature tests the resilience of oyster’s watermen & women daily with howling winds, driving rains, icy waterways, frigid temperatures in the winter months and intense heat and humidity in the summer.
After a full day on the water, back at the dock or oyster house, the job of cleaning the freshly-harvested oysters begins, along with packing the oysters for transport and delivery, fixing equipment, and compliance paperwork.
Many oyster operations are small, multi-generational family-owned businesses where often the oyster man/woman is also the boat mechanic, delivery person, accountant, marketer and public face of the business. Year ‘round planning and prepping is a constant extended-day routine as they cover all the bases to ensure their livelihood and the quality of their bounty.
Pre-dawn wakeup call, solitary work on the water, often in challenging conditions, cleaning and packaging, driving across the state to deliver fresh oysters to restaurants and markets, evening events to shuck and share their bounty with customers, late night return home for compliance paperwork — a day in the life of oyster men and women is a long, rewarding one.
Written by Frank Morgan, Author and Creator of Drink What You Like Wine Blog
November is Virginia Oyster Month and you are in for a treat as our trail sites and their communities kick off their fall season and look forward to welcoming you!
Did you know that Virginia is the largest producer of fresh, farm-raised oysters on the East Coast, providing eight regions of distinctive flavor? From the seaside salts of the Eastern Shore, to the inland sweets of the Rappahannock River, you are invited to take a delicious journey of discovery along the Virginia Oyster Trail.
The history of oysters in America is forever and indelibly linked to the history of Virginia.
On April 26, 1607, Captain Christopher Newport and the Virginia Company colonists, including 104 men and boys, had been crammed in three small ships for almost five months sailing from England, landed at present day Cape Henry in Virginia Beach.
The day after landing at Cape Henry, a group, which included diarist George Percy, begin to explore, marching “eight miles up into the land,” probably around the present site of Lynnhaven Bay.
There, Percy writes,“We came to a place where they (the Native Americans) had made a great fire, and had been newlyroasting Oysters. When they perceived our coming, they fled away to the mountains (large sand dunes), and left many of the Oysters in the fire. We eat some of the Oysters, which were very large and delicate in taste.”
That’s the first written record of prepared food in what would become English-speaking America; the first food review, if you will, and it seems the roasted Lynnhaven oysters were a critics choice. More than 400 years later they still are.
In fact, Virginia has been known by oyster lovers as having offerings unparalleled elsewhere. There is no place that offers the oyster experience like the commonwealth, or offers the vast array of oysters not just from the Lynnhaven, but indeed from all eight distinct oyster growing regions.
OYSTERS & WINE, A PERFECT PAIR
October is Virginia Wine Month, a time to celebrate one of the commonwealth’s agricultural treasures. In fact, oysters and wine go perfect together; I love to have friends over and set up an oyster and wine bar.
Here’s how I do it:
In long, lipped trays set on top folded towels to catch condensation, I put a layer of crushed ice. On top of that I put freshly shucked Virginia oysters. If I have some from different growers or different regions, I write the name/region number on a small placard and place in front of the bivalve.
At the end of the trays I put out a number of accoutrements: freshly grated horseradish, a classic mignonette, lemon wedges, and cocktail sauce (see recipe below).
On another table, I put tubs filled with ice and an assortment of Virginia wine. There are many great wines across the region, and the varietals/styles I look for are:
Chardonnay, especially stainless steel fermented, are great for dishes like Oysters Rockefeller where the bright, crispness of the wine cuts through the cream and cheese of the food, and the citrus notes enhance the earthiness of the oyster and parmesan. This is a great choice, too, for saltier oysters on the half shell, like those from Region 1, and lower Regions 3 and 7. An oaky chardonnay would be a good choice for a broth-based chowder, and for sweeter oysters on the half-shell, like those from Regions 2, 4, 6, 5, and 8 and upper Regions 3 and 7.
Sparkling wine is good for oysters across the board, but I love it especially with fried oysters, where the effervescence plies through the crispy layer of coating goodness and gets right down to the meat of the matter. It’s great with any of the oyster regions for bivalves on the half-shell, but I especially love it with the saltier varieties, like oysters from Region 1, and lower Regions 3 and 7.
Viognier is Virginia’s signature grape, and I love this lush wine, with a bit of minearlity and often full of floral, citrus and stone fruit notes. Enjoy this with steamed oysters, where the fruit bomb of the wine accents the subtleness of the oysters; it’s great too when the steamed oysters are served with a cocktail sauce. For oysters on the half-shell, I like it with any of the regions, but especially those that have a bit of sweetness and a bit of saltiness - Goldilocks, if you will - such as Regions 3, 5 and 7 - but try it with them all.
RECIPE: OLD SCHOOL COCKTAIL SAUCE
Here is my recipe for a classic cocktail sauce; it’s quick and easy to make and really shines when dolloped atop a freshly-shucked Virginia oyster.
In a medium bowl, whisk 1 cup ketchup, 1 cup chili sauce, 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish, 1 tablespoon Asian hot sauce such as Sriracha and 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice until combined. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving. Yields approximately 2 cups.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE OYSTER RECIPE AND WINE PAIRING?
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE OYSTER RECIPE AND WINE PAIRING?Send us the recipe for your favorite Virginia oyster dish with a recommended Virginia wine pairing and we may feature it in one of our upcoming blogs! Be sure to tag your recipe to us via Twitter in two ways: @vaoystertrail and #vaoystertrail.
Our author: Patrick Evans-Hylton is a Johnson & Wales trained chef, food historian and award-winning food journalist who has covered Virginia food and foodways in print, broadcast and electronic media since 1995. He is author of the cookbook/travel guide “Dishing Up Virginia” and publisher of the statewide “Virginia Eats + Drinks Magazine” which offers free subscriptions at www.facebook.com/VirginiaEatsDrinksMag, PatrickEvansHylton@gmail.com
CLICK THE LINKS BELOW TO CHECK OUT THESE UPCOMING VIRGINIA OYSTER EVENTS ALONG THE VIRGINIA OYSTER TRAIL:
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2017:
In her classic culinary book, Consider the Oyster, renowned American food writer M.F.K. Fisher wrote, “often the place and time help make a food what it becomes, even more than the food itself.”
As much as any food, oysters from Virginia waterways played an important role in early America; from the time settlers arrived centuries ago until disease and overharvesting took its toll in the early to mid-twentieth century.
Today, Virginia is at the threshold of an oyster renaissance thanks to a fraternity of women and men fiercely dedicated to Virginia’s waterways and preserving the traditions of oyster cultivation.
While technology has contributed to the state’s oyster resurgence, traditional tools of the oyster trade remain the same — tireless work ethic, love of life on the water, a boat, overalls and white rubber boots.
Sometimes called Guinea boots, Tidewater tennis shoes, Chesapeake Bay house slippers, or just sea boots, depending on the region of Virginia, white boots are as much a symbol of oyster culture as wind-kissed cheeks and salt-chapped, calloused hands.
Less expensive than other boots, easier to clean, cooler on the feet in the sun than darker boots, and less likely to scuff the deck of the boat, white boots are worn by oysterman out of necessity, community and tradition.
The Virginia Oyster Trail provides culinary enthusiasts the opportunity to explore the rich traditions of the state’s waterways and taste an important part of the Old Dominion’s culinary past and future.
Comprised of eight distinct regions, the Virginia Oyster Trail showcases the diversity of the state’s waterways: from briny oysters grown in the Lynnhaven River to the salty oysters of the lower Bay and seaside to the buttery sweet oysters of the Rappahannock and upper Bay.
A tour of the trail provides adventurous epicures a delicious lesson from the women and men on the frontline of the state’s oyster resurgence.
The White Boots Blog — a nod to the convergence of necessity and traditions of life on Virginia’s waterways — will serve as a resource by sharing the stories of yesterday and those of the women and men responsible for making local oysters a prominent part of the Virginia culinary narrative again.
Written by Frank Morgan, Author and Creator of Drink What You Like Wine Blog
Click the link below to check out these Virginia Oyster specials on the Virginia Oyster Trail: