I spotted U.S. National Shucking Champion William "Chopper" Young on a float in the 4th of July parade in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Could he be practicing for the international oyster opening competition in Galway, Ireland? This marks the 60th year of festivities at the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival (September 25-28). If you've never been, book your tickets NOW and go cheer for Chopper as he represents the USA. Oh yes, and eat some fabulous oysters!
The crowds arrived earlier than ever for the 13th annual Wellfleet OysterFest. Maybe it was the perfect fall weather, or the terrific arts and crafts booths lining the streets of town. That helped swell the numbers, I think, butT the real draw was the opportunity to eat the best damn oysters on the planet. Yeah, that.
Oysters for breakfast? Yes, please.
Toronto-based shucking judge John Baby and shucking competition coordinator Nancy Civetta before the competition.
The first competitors took the stage about 1 p.m. Twenty-two shuckers competed in 11 heats in front of a crowd estimated to be over 10,000.
Beer sales were brisk!
2012 champion shucker James Gray goes for two-in-a-row win.
Two time shucking champion Barbara Austin had support from the cheering crowd.
Emcees Eric Williams and Mac Hay banter between heats.
Paul Suggs raises arms high after speedily opening 24 oysters. But speed isn’t the only thing that determines who wins; aesthetic presentation counts, too, with penalties added for broken shells, cut oysters, grit, and blood from slashed fingers.
In judging tent, oysters are meticulously and anonymously checked for deviations from perfection.
Tomorrow, 10 shuckers will compete for the $1,000 first prize and bragging rights for a year.
Crowds scarfed down oysters before, during and after the competition.
Sincere apologies for the photo-heavy post. This blogger's typing hand was seriously injured last night...putting out a fire! However, I hear oysters help the healing process.
World champion oyster shucker Chopper Young pops open Wellfleet’s finest bivalves while marching in the 4th of July parade in Wellfleet, Mass. File this in the “Best. Parade. Float. Ever.” category!
True story: Today, inching along Mass Ave in traffic in Beantown—trucks, buses, cars, cycles, horse-drawn carriage, you name it—the car on my left was beeping it’s horn. Incessantly. I glanced over and the woman driver had rolled down the passenger side window and was gesticulating wildly, and shouting.
“Oh crap,” I thought. “She wants to squeeze into my lane.” I opened my window and leaned out to hear what she was trying to say over the clang clang of construction activity.
“Hey! Where’d you get the sticker?”
“The sticker! The oyster sticker!”
“In Wellfleet,” I hollered back.
Thus began our shouted conversation. I learned she’s heading down to Wellfleet next week to tour the oyster flats. She’s from somewhere nearby—Winthrop?—and had heard about the Wellfleet oyster cooperative, and wants to learn more.
My lane started moving and we waved goodbye. Two blocks later, we were side by side again. I put the van in park, jumped out, and handed her my Half Shell Blog card.
“Send me an email!” I called, jumping back in the van as the knot of traffic loosened and moved.
“It was meant to be!” she shouted.
Is she an oyster farmer? Oyster eater? Who knows. But this I know: Oyster lovers are EVERYWHERE!
The almost-full moon was rising over Miami last night when I headed to The Dutch with my writer pal Lynne Barrett. Maybe it was the moon, maybe it was the 80-degree South Beach breezes, or maybe it was the effects of the craft cocktails we imbibed at the Living Room Bar in the W hotel, but when I saw OYSTERS on the menu…I just had to order some.
Our choices: Blue Point, CT; Browne’s Point, ME; Totten Inlet, WA; Wellfleet, MA.
We avoided the Blue Points and ordered two each of the others, making a perfect half dozen served in an ice-filled white ceramic bowl with lemon, mignonette, and cocktail sauce—with hots on the side.
I sampled West Coast first. The small bivalves from Puget Sound were less buttery than I expected from a left coast oyster; nicely salty, strongly flavored with a taste of algae. Yum.
Lynne’s favorites were the Browne’s Points, saying they had “a multiplicity of flavor and are much richer” than the other two. Me? I could taste the funky, silty, murky influence of the Damariscotta River, their harvest region. I liked their plumpness and sweetness, but my personal preference leans to a little more brine.
For me, the hometown favorite wins. I know, I know, I’m biased toward Wellfleets, but what can I say? They taste like “home.” As I picked up the shell last night, I nearly shouted, “Someone I know could have grown this oyster!”
Lynne spent part of her childhood eating oysters in Cape Porpoise, near Kennebunkport, Maine. (Perhaps her own bias?) “I think how cheap and abundant things were when I was a kid. We were buying oysters and clams by the bucket. We had gobs of them.”
In Wellfleet, I have similar memories of getting oysters from the flats, and of digging for clams with my cousins at dead low tide on Mayo Beach. We’d squeal trying to avoid stepping on periwinkles, and imagine being swallowed by quicksand as our feet sunk deep into black muck. After an hour or so, we’d gather our heavy buckets and head home tired, salty, and ready for a feast.
After the oysters on the half shell, we sampled “Little Oyster Sandwiches” made with fried Blue Points served on tiny buttery sesame-studded rolls. With a shot of The Dutch’s bottled “Hot Sauce” (tasting suspiciously like Sriracha) they were a perfect mix of crunchy-buttery-spicy wonderment.
Thanks, Lynne, for a fab evening, and thanks to The Dutch for offering such tasty bivalves.
Fact: I pretty much never turn down an invitation to eat oysters.
So when my pal Greg recently suggested I venture north of Boston for an oyster-eating adventure, the answer was “I’d love to!” We met at the Hale Street Tavern, Sushi and Oyster Bar in Beverly Farms, snagged a seat at the crowded bar, and sampled the six varieties of oysters on the menu.
Warning: Ever eat oysters with a food writer? Patience is required. Here’s how it goes: You order oysters, and when they arrive the first thing the writer says is: “Don’t touch them!” This is followed by lots of picture taking and note making with possible additional questions to the server. THEN you can eat them.
1. Crowes Creek, Nova Scotia. (At least I think they’re from N.S., as I can’t confirm this via the web. Anyone with info about these tasty mollusks let me know.) Sharp and salty. Greg likened the taste to the experience of “being upside down in a kayak in cold water.”
2. Washburn, Falmouth, Mass. Our cheerful bartender, James, at first inaccurately described these as West Coast oysters, but a quick Google search—plus Greg’s knowledge of New England kayaking destinations—revealed their true home as an island off the coast of Cape Cod. “There are lots of coves and inlets you can paddle into,” said Greg, who went on to explain that in order to get one of the 10 campsites on this island, part of the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, you have to apply two-years in advance. The taste? Salty at first. Strong depth in the middle with overtones of seaweed. “It’s almost like a meat,” said Greg. Agreed.
3.Chatham, Mass. Slightly salty and smooth with a sweet finish.
4. Wellfleet, Mass. My hometown fave. “Almost hot-salty,” said Greg, that “faded into sweet.”
5. East Beach, R.I. A tiny squirt of lemon rode atop the crisp salty flavors. For some reason the image of old-fashioned inflatable canvas rafts comes to mind. In a good way.
6. Brewster, Mass. Salty-sweet with a touch of zinc, and an almost tannic mouth-feel. (Sorry to get all wine-metaphory on you.)
Oh, and in the middle of all the picture-taking, note-making, question asking, and eating—possibly when I was kneeling on my stool with my camera hovering high above the platter—the guy sitting next to us started talking oysters. Turns out he was Dan Enos, executive chef and operating partner at The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Boston. Did I know they had an oyster bar in downtown Boston serving a variety of East and West Coast oysters daily? Um, no. Did I know they produced a “Cheat Sheet” describing over 75 varieties of oysters and describe them according to location, production, season, average size, appearance, culture methods and flavor? Um, no. Would I like to come and taste some oysters at their bar? See: Fact (above). Yes.
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.