The Napa Valley of Oysters

Maine oysters are consistently ranked as some of the best in the world. One of our own team members, Aaron Carlson, grew up in Damariscotta which is home to the Damariscotta River Estuary, the largest site for oyster growth in Maine. Aaron still remembers reading an article in Wired maybe ten years ago which ranked the best oysters in the world, and number three were oysters from Damariscotta.

“Some people refer to Damariscotta as the Napa Valley of oysters” says Aaron, and with good reason. Oysters are not unlike a fine wine as their flavor depends largely on the environment they are grown. Maine’s rocky coast famously creates the perfect environment of estuaries fed by pristine tidal water and fresh river water. In this environment the native Maine oyster, Crassostrea virginica, absolutely thrives. The cold temperatures of the water mean it takes longer for oysters to mature, and as Julie Qui states in her blog In a Half Shell “I think the pristine environment and bracingly cold waters of the Gulf of Maine make the oysters here taste a cut above the rest.”

The native Maine oyster has adapted beautifully to colder temperature by storing glycogen as the summer wanes and fall begins. Extra stores of glycogen translate to oysters that are even more plump and sweet than those harvested in the summer. While oysters are wildly popular among locals and visitors alike during the summer, now is really the time to get out and indulge in nature’s finest treat.

The native Wabanaki people are believed to have enjoyed oysters as an important part of their culture. Large middens, as they are called, are banks of empty shells believed to be left behind by the native people. Aaron tells me “When the town was settled they found middens of shells that were 20 feet high on either side of the river from the Native Americans.” He also alludes to a less popular, but equally impressive spot as the Whaleback Shell Midden Historical Site “You can still see middens along the Damariscotta River. If you go down Glidden Street you eventually reach a mansion at the end at which point you follow the trail that leads to a beach of shells, the Glidden Midden.”

A large majority of the oysters we consume today are farmed. Unlike other aquaculture farms; however, oyster farms are largely sustainable and even benefit the environment. A mature Maine oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water each day. Pemaquid Oyster Company’s famous bivalves are “reared at our summer nurseries in the plankton-rich waters of the Damariscotta river” and “In late fall, oyster seeds are bottom planted in our leased growing beds.” The well-known Pemaquid Oyster Company also boasts their own custom-designed purging baskets to sweeten the deal and produce some of the world’s best oysters.

If all of this doesn’t have you convinced, we encourage you to try some Maine oysters and see for yourself what the rave is all about. Sunday, September 30th is the Pemaquid Oyster Festival and your perfect opportunity to fully dive in to the Maine oyster scene. Festival goers can expect a bounty of Pemaquid Oysters prepared in every way you could possibly hope for as well as full-service bar and a limited restaurant menu. Admission is free, and your purchases will go toward the Edward A. Myers Marine Conservation Fund.

In the event you are not able to attend the Pemaquid Oyster Festival, we at Boone’s will always have your Maine oyster needs covered with an average of five to six varieties to choose from each and every day. Our current selection includes two varieties from Damariscotta alone – Pemaquid and John’s River.

Additional Sources:
https://www.brownetrading.com/blog/maine-oyster-guide/
http://www.takepart.com/article/2015/08/26/oyster-names-farming/
http://seagrant.umaine.edu/sites/default/files/Maine%20Oysters.pdf
https://www.seagrant.umaine.edu/maine-oyster-trail
https://www.portlandmonthly.com/portmag/2009/08/guide-to-maine-oysters/

Photo: http://www.pangeashellfish.com/pemaquid-oyster/