Bivalve Love

PEI delicacy comes out of its shell

One hundred and seventeen years ago the Malpeque oyster was proclaimed “the Best Oyster in the World” at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.

It’s still considered the best by many in the culinary world. If you haven’t had the pleasure this year’s Feast and Frolic dinner at the PEI International Shellfish Festival may be your best opportunity to give this tasty little bivalve a try. Waitaminute—if you’re reading this it’s entirely likely you live on PEI. If you haven’t eaten an oyster, why not?

Matt Sullivan, executive director of the PEI Aquaculture Alliance, said Feast and Frolic is one of PEI’s largest food experiences, with seating for 500 guests. The event will be hosted by celebrity chef, Chuck Hughes.

“This year has an all new format which starts with guests ‘frolicking’ then feasting on the main,” he said. “The frolic portion will include roving food stations and interactive stations hosted by competing shuckers, local fishermen, and some of PEI’s top chefs. Guests will be invited to try three award-winning chowders and different flavours of PEI mussels.”

The main course this year is a surf-and-turf created and catered by chef Irwin MacKinnon and his team from Papa Joe’s Restaurant.

But one of the other highlights is the “world’s greatest oyster bar” featuring 23 brands of PEI oysters from 12 producers (see sidebar).

“Oyster brands usually look and taste different from one another even though they are all of the same species due to different characteristics of the water they are grown in,” Sullivan said. “Visual and taste diversity in oyster varieties are attributed to environmental differences in bays across PEI such as minerals in the water, water bottom characteristics, salinity levels, mixture of fresh and salt water. Also the method that the oysters are grown and handled can differ from wild oyster fishers and cultured oyster growers, which makes differences in taste and aesthetics.”

Organizers have made sure to lay in a good supply of oyster for the event. Each producer is coming armed with 300 of the little beasts so guests will have close to 7,000 oysters to satisfy their cravings.

All oysters produced on PEI are Malpeque oysters, a result of a seeding program instituted following a couple of shellfish diseases that all but wiped out the oyster industry here some 100 years ago. The different brand name indicates producer, method, or bay/estuary that particular oyster comes from.

More than 100 years on from the Paris Exhibition, Malpeque oysters have maintained their high profile and are still considered some of the best in the world. They are so popular that PEI produced over 3,422 tons of oysters, valued at $12.8m in 2015.

It’s the variability in and the health of the oyster stock here that has helped the product maintain its place on the palate of connoisseurs worldwide.

Raspberry Point oysters are a well-recognized brand of PEI oyster//Submitted photo

“Oysters are quite similar to wine in that there are many differences in the types and varieties of oysters,” Sullivan said. “PEI has a global reputation for high quality and safely handled food products. The taste and quality of oysters all come down to the environment that the oysters are grown in. In PEI, we have pristine, clean waters that produce a tasty shellfish product, paired with a rigorously regulated food safety standard that ensures that the food we produce is safe.”
This year’s Feast and Frolic takes place September 14 at 6:00pm at the Charlottetown Event Grounds.

Fivestar Shellfish is an oyster processing outfit located in Ellerslie, PEI//Submitted photo.

 

 

There will be 12 producers participating in the World’s Greatest Oyster Bar at the Feast and Frolic dinner as part of the PEI International Shellfish Festival. These are the brands of oysters they’ll be serving up:

Savage Blond · Red Head Selects · Tuxedo · Sure Thing · Malpeque Premium · Cascumpec Bay · Foxley River · Colville Bay · Sarah Shore · Sand Dune Selects · Conway Cups · Gooseberry Bay · Rocky Shore · Sunberry Point · Cook’s Cocktail Oysters · Indian Creek Premium · Cook’s Cove · Brudenell Bullies · Raspberry Point · Irish Point · Lucky Limes · Fortune Bay Oyster · Conway Pearls

About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also like writing about food. Go figure.

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