Thursday, August 7, 2008

Keep on "shucking" Rodney...

As you may have gathered from some of my previous posts that I am a big oyster lover and a big Rodney Clark fan and I think he's bang on with his observations. Like most consumables there are certainly many variables particularly in wines, cheeses, meats, etc... and it's no different with oysters and I suspect Rodney has a pretty good sense of what the market is looking for and it's unfortunate that some people don't see it this way. Rodney is investing his own money to satisfy what he believes is a demand and I would suggest that others should take him seriously and follow along.
P.E.I. oysters need cultivating, says restaurateur
Thursday, August 7, 2008
CBC News
The owner of one of Canada's biggest oyster restaurants says P.E.I. producers need to work harder to enhance the reputation of the Malpeque oyster.
"It's an all you can eat, buffet in a hotel, or happy hour oyster," Rodney Clark, of Rodney's Oyster House in Toronto, told CBC News this week of the Malpeque's reputation.
Malpeque oysters were once considered the finest in the world, but Clark said they've fallen behind. While many producers in other parts of the world carefully cultivate their oysters for the four or five years it takes to grow from seed to harvest on a specially designed lease, most P.E.I. oysters are left to grow almost entirely in the wild.
A few of the 500 oyster leases on the Island are used to grow from seed, but most Island producers use the grounds for storage. Sometimes the oysters will stay only a few weeks or at the most for a year or two.
With a wild fishery it's very difficult to control quality, said Clark. "They don't know what's underneath there," he said.
"Then you'll hear them say, 'Oh, it's been a great year,' or they'll say 'Oh no, it's been a really poor year for shape, or size isn't there,' and we want to eliminate that."
'They want a product that's coming from a particular place on Earth.'— Rowan Jacobsen, author, A Geography of Oysters
With the relative decline in quality and size of Malpeques, said Clark, only about four per cent of oysters sold at Rodney's Oyster House come from the Island.
Clark is not alone in his assessment of Malpeques. Rowan Jacobsen, author of A Geography of Oysters, said the current taste of connoisseurs conflicts with the practice on P.E.I. of moving oysters around.
"What more people are looking for is the same thing they look for in a wine. They want a product that's coming from a particular place on Earth, and has the characteristics of that place," said Jacobsen.
"If the oysters are just being kept in one place and aren't being moved around, they'll develop, the word that's used with wine, terroir … But if oysters are getting relayed to different spots for different reasons, then it's going to be a more muddled flavour."
Size matters
Jacobsen isn't entirely in agreement with Clark. One of Clark's complaints is the P.E.I. oysters are too small. He's looking for a four-inch oyster, probably another year's growth in P.E.I. waters. But Jacobsen notes a current favourite oyster is the two-inch Kumamoto, grown mostly on the west coast of the U.S.
Size is also a problem for P.E.I. grower Johnny Flynn of Colville Bay Oysters. Flynn grows his oysters from seed on a lease, but doesn't hold on to them until they reach Clark's preferred four inches.
Flynn said he could get a better price growing the oysters another year, but he would lose five to 10 per cent of them to natural die-off — sometimes more. The premium price he would get compared with the three-inch oysters he sends to market would not make up the difference.
But Clark, a former Islander, has not just returned to P.E.I. to talk the industry into changing its ways. He has bought 12 hectares of oyster leases in Nine Mile Creek, west of Charlottetown, to grow his own oysters. He will start with test plots, trying out different seeds, and growing each for at least five years. He hopes this will net him nice round, four-inch oysters, with the characteristics his clients have come to expect.

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