Oyster lovers will gather to slurp, swoon, and celebrate the succulent bivalve at the Galway International Oyster Festival (Sept. 25-28). Now in its 60th year, the weekend event is deemed one of Europe’s longest-running food extravaganzas. Opening night kicks off with music, seafood, Ireland’s national shucking championship, and presentation of the season’s first oyster to Galway’s mayor by the newly crowned Oyster Pearl — a tradition since 1954. On Saturday, a parade weaves through the narrow medieval streets to the Spanish Arch and there’s a nonstop afternoon of food and entertainment. Representing the United States, Wellfleet’s William “Chopper” Young will vie to regain the title of world’s fastest oyster shucker— currently held by Denmark’s Jesper Knudsen — at the World Oyster Opening Championship. Events include late-night revels at Masquerade Mardi Gras, cooking demos, seafood trails, and Sunday’s family-friendly festival. Tickets $20-$130. 011-353-91-394637, galwayoysterfestival.com GO CHOPPER! MAY THE BEST SHUCKER WIN!!
Oyster and seafood festivals kick into high gear this season, and in addition to great eats there’s always high drama at the shucking competitions where speed must be matched with perfectionism. Cut an oyster or leave grit in the shell and penalties will ruin a quick time. Shells are sure to fly when the pros take the stage at these events, armed with custom made knives, to compete for glory and sometimes cash. How many will you attend? Three, two, one: SHUCK!
CANADA: 5th Annual Montreal Oysterfest—September 8, 1-9 p.m.
The 5th Annual Montreal Oysterfest is a culinary celebration of beautiful bivalves. The extravaganza features oysters handpicked by the Old Port Fishing Company; food prepared by the town’s top chefs; food-related products, crafts and books; the Mott’s Clamato Caesar Throwdown; and a highly-competitive shucking contest. It’s all happening in a new location this year: Terrasses Bonsecours, a moated island in the heart of Old Port. Mais oui! (Photo by Riccardo Cellere) http://mtloysterfest.com/
CANADA: 17th Annual PEI International Shellfish Festival-- September 12-15
An enormous white tent hosts thousands of foodies who flock to the Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival, a four-day event packed with culinary demos, celebrity chefs, chowder championships, and oyster shucking competitions. (In a new location this year: the Charlottetown Event Grounds on the corner of Water and Grafton Street.) I don’t know who’ll be showing up to shuck, though you might meet “Oyster Bob” from Vancouver, current Canadian champ Mike Langley, Toronto chef, Patrick McMurray, and Montreal’s Daniel Notkin. Sample all the PEI shellfish you can eat. Live music all day and night. www.peishellfish.com
IRELAND: 59th Annual Galway International Oyster Festival—September 26-29
The crème de la crème of shuckers from America to Singapore compete for the world title at the World Oyster Shucking Championship in Galway. (This year the U.S. will be represented by Robert Daffin from Panama City, Florida.) Party the Irish way at this four-day gala event that starts with a shuck-off to determine the Irish competitor. The medieval city is a striking backdrop for the non-stop events including sumptuous buffets, a parade with pom pom-shaking young colleens, live music, Irish step dancing, Guinness galore, dancing on chairs, and the crowning of the new world champ. www.galwayoysterfest.com
USA: 13th Annual Wellfleet OysterFest—October 19-20
Now in its 13th year, the Wellfleet OysterFest has grown into a 2-day street fair where thousands flock to slurp down succulent bivalves and sample chowder and other specialties prepared by local restaurants. In addition to its famous oysters, Wellfleet is home to shellfisherman William “Chopper” Young, two-time national shucking champion, and the first American to win the internationals in Galway (2008) in 32 years. Other activities include live entertainment, a 5k race, cooking demos, arts and crafts, and lectures on the marine environment.
USA: 47th Annual St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival—October 19-20
Leonardtown, Maryland hosts this two-day extravaganza on the third weekend of October. The shucking competition attracts those who vie to claim the title as best in the nation, and win the grand prize ticket to Galway, Ireland for the international championship. In true country-fair tradition, there are arts and crafts, a livestock barn, entertainment tent, historic displays, amusement park, and the National Oyster Cook Off. Enjoy oyster chowder, grilled oysters, raw oysters, Maryland ham, BBQ beef, and deep-fried funnel cake. http://usoysterfest.com/
USA: 50th Annual Florida Seafood Festival—November 1-2
Kellie Pickler is headlining this year’s Florida Seafood Festival in Apalachicola, but the true stars are the shuckers who’ll open eighteen Apalachicola Bay oysters and compete to win a spot in the national competition in 2014. Weekend festivities also feature an oyster-eating contest, blue crab races, a parade with bands and floats, a blessing of the fleet, 5k road race, fireworks and more. www.floridaseafoodfestival.com
I grew up spending part of every summer in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, which included eating many oysters. After stumbling into an oyster shucking competition in Miami Beach in 2006, I’ve become a fan of the sport and have written about local, national, and international competitions for the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, American Way Magazine, and the Huffington Post. I've also written oyster-centric stories for Rustik and Modern Farmer. I’ve never met an oyster I didn’t want to eat.