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What Is Merroir & How Can It Help You Be An Oyster Pro

Walk into any oyster bar these days and you’ll be met with a seemingly endless list of oyster varieties; west coast, east coast, and likely several from the same town. As you ponder the list and attempt to choose the type that you want to order, the notion that so many varieties could truly be distinct from one another – especially if they are from the same area – seems a bit suspect. I mean, HOW different can oysters really be from one another?

Enter the concept of merroir.

Merroir is inspired by the concept of terroir which in the wine world, is used to describe the visceral connection between wine and the land it comes from. Merroir refers to the unique expression of the ocean on an oyster and provides a handy toolbox of criteria that makes any daunting oyster list easier to navigate.

So, what is Merroir and how can I use it to be the coolest person at the raw bar?

Merroir has four key components that impact the final product that ends up on your shellfish platter:

1. Species

In the United States, there are five species that can legally be cultivated, and each has a different flavor profile and appearance. On the west coast, we find Crassostrea Gigas, Kumomotos, Olympia. On the east coast Belon and Crassostrea Virginica. The latter is the most prolific oyster on the east coast (and is what we grow on our farm). Every oyster grown from PEI to the Florida panhandle are Crassostrea Virginicas.

2. Geography

Water temperature, salinity, sandy or muddy bottoms (as in the bay floor – GET YOUR MINDS OUTTA THE GUTTER!), tide fluctuations, proximity to a fresh water source. All of the above impact the growing speed, shell quality, and flavor profile of the oyster. This is one of the most influential factors in how an oyster is experienced.

3. Farming Method

There are many ways to grow an oyster. A farmer will choose a growing method based off of the constraints and characteristics of their unique micro-geography. Common techniques are rack and bag, Australian long-line, bottom planting, trays, and floating bags. Each growing method will affect where in the water column the oysters are, what kind of nutrients they are able to filter, how the shell grows, and so on, which impact an oyster’s flavor and appearance. On our farm, we use bottom planting and trays.

4. Hand of the Grower

This is where the farmer can really express themselves! Farmers use their creativity and innovation to make decisions throughout the oysters’ lifecycle. A perfect example of “hand of the grower” is the Aunt Dotty and Row 34 oysters that we raise on our farm. Our bay is suited for bottom planting because the bay is protected from strong rip currents by Duxbury Beach, and the bay floor is very firm and stable. After years of growing Island Creeks on the bottom, Skip decided to experiment with raising his oysters in trays to see if it would make a difference. Turns out, his curiosity was on point. Today, we farm  Aunt Dotty and Row 34s in trays and they have a cult following!

 

So, the next time you saddle up at a raw bar and see a long list of oyster to choose from, ask your shucker a few questions – where the oysters come from, how are they grown – and keep those qualities in mind as you taste each variety. Over time, you’ll figure out which aspects of Merroir you like best… And you’ll be an Oyster Pro for life.