The Pacific Northwest may well be the heartland of oysters. I realize that there are wonderful oysters in other parts of the country, but there are over 60 varieties
of oysters available along the Oregon, Washington, British Columbia coast. Most of these oysters are from the Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea gigas) species, but Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea), Olympia (Ostrea conchaphila), European Flat (Ostrea edulis) and Eastern (Crassostrea virginica) are all grown in Pacific Northwest waters and make their way to restaurant menus. Most of these are available as raw oysters on the half shell.
Some of the less common oysters available include Snow Creek, Golden Mantle, Otter Cove, Sinku, Malaspina, Deer Creek, Quadra Island, Thorndyke, Summer Ice, Sister Point, Stellar Bay, Pebble Cove, Baywater Sweet, Deep Bay, Dosewallips and Cortes Island.
Each of these oysters has its own flavor profile, much like wines from different regions have different profiles even if they are from the same grape variety. Common oyster distinctions are “light brininess”, “strong brininess”, “melon finish”, “cucumber finish”, “sweet flavor”, “creamy’, “crisp, clean flavor”, “pronounced flavor”, “coppery or metallic”, “earthy”, to name just a few.
There are also various growing methods. Some are beach grown, others are grown in suspension trays. Some are always under water, while others grow in intertidal beach areas. All these things go towards giving the oyster its characteristics in flavor, hardness or brittleness of shell, deepness of the cup, and overall texture of the meats.
Finding good information on all these varieties can be a challenge. There are several good resources available. Chefs-Resources.com
has over 60 varieties listed on their site. Each oyster listed has the species name, the location grown, method of growth (beach, suspension, etc), time of year available, and a flavor profile. The Oyster Guide.com
also has a great listing of oysters from all over the world. The site includes excellent information on how oysters are cultured and how different methods of growing affects the flavor and the shell.
Expanding upon this topic, there are 6 oyster appellations in the Pacific Northwest. The Oregon Coast, Washington Coast, South Puget Sound, Hood Canal, North Puget Sound, and British Columbia. The majority of the 60 plus varieties of PNW oysters come from the pristine waters of the San Juan Island network which includes the North & Sound Puget Sound appellations and the Hood Canal region. Some favorites from these areas are the Penn Cove Select, Samish Bay Oyster, Dabob Bay, Westcott Bay and Judd Cove.
The clean, cold waters around Vancouver Island, British Columbia also offer a large variety of oysters. The very unique Kusshi and Stellar Bay oysters come from eastern Vancouver Island. Other specialties from this appellation include Sinku, Summer Ice, Cortes Island, Fanny Bay and Evening Cove to name a few.
For the oyster lover, exploring all these aquatic delights is a pass time worth its endeavor. Pour the wine and lets get started!