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From (Oyster) Farm to Table

From (Oyster) Farm to Table

Simple and refreshing, oysters are one of the world's perfect products. The shell makes a playful but elegant utensil; we love the sweet, briny flavors that flood each slurp. Before docking on our plate, though, these tasty bivalves go on an epic voyage.

Our friends at Island Creek Oysters, one of our shellfish purveyors, shared their oyster-farming process with us. Founded in 1992 by Skip Bennett, ICO is anchored on a muddy flat in Duxbury Bay, Mass., where they farm millions of oysters each year.

“As with most farms, an oyster farm's success is directly correlated with the levels of care and elbow-grease it is given," said ICO President Chris Sherman. "Mother nature is responsible for so much of what we do and how our oysters taste, but the key to creating a truly exceptional product — the one that has earned the regard of chefs around the world — is the attention we give to every step of the growing process, from seed to harvest."

Discover these steps now, from the (oyster) farm to your table!

HATCHING THE SEED

The story begins with “seed,” baby oysters that are just 2 millimeters in length. ICO creates their own oyster seed in their onsite hatchery. (Spoiler: at the end of the story, 18 months later, each bag of these baby oysters will take up an acre of Duxbury Bay and weigh about 250,000 pounds.) Each May, these seeds are “planted” under the docks in an upweller, a complicated system of boxes and pipes that protect and feed the baby oysters. With a constant stream of fresh ocean water and nutrients, the oysters grow exponentially each week.

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MOVING TO THE NURSERY

After a month, ICO farmers grade the oysters on size using a screen with a ¼-inch weave. The smaller oysters stay in the upweller; the larger ones are moved to the nursery, a system of mesh bags and cages that is secured at the bottom of Duxbury Bay. In the nursery, oysters continue to be fed with constant water and air flow. There, the oysters will double in size over two to three months.

Island Creek Oysters Farmers

PLANTING IN THE BAY

In late August, it’s time to “plant” the oysters on the bay floor, the most ritualistic part of the farming process. Each oyster farmer has his or her own “grant,” or acreage of underwater ground leased from the state; each in turn has a specific way of planting. It is key to find the right density of oysters: too dense results in bad oysters; too thin is an inefficient use of the farm. ICO employs the “snow shovel cast” method, in which the oysters are physically strewn from the boat into the bay.

Planting Oysters Island Creek Oysters

HIBERNATION TO HARVEST

In the winter, the oysters go dormant and rest on the bay floor, then feed and grow during the warmer months. All year long, the ICO farmers stay busy, harvesting oysters at different stages.

The following August, 18 months later, the oysters are big and strong enough to be harvested. During low tides, farmers handpick the bivalves directly from the mudflats of the bay floor of Duxbury. When the tide is not on their side, farmers will also harvest by “dragging," which entails very carefully dragging a rake-like device behind a boat.

Island Creek Oysters Farmers

CULLING AND CLEANING

After harvesting, the farm crews spend many hours sorting the oysters by size. For ICO, the ideal specimen boasts a deep, round cup and is three inches long. After more than 20 years of experience, their farming methods typically result in a large selection of perfectly-sized oysters. Once culled, the oysters are cleaned, counted and bagged by hand, and loaded into delivery trucks that ship them to Eataly!

Island Creek Oysters Farmers

SHUCKING AND SERVING

Once we receive the daily selection of oysters from ICO, our chefs keep them chilled, then shuck them to order. (This is an entirely other process! Check out our guide on how to shuck an oyster.) After we dress them, we bring them to your table! Journey complete.

oysters

Editor's note: All photos of the oyster-farming process are courtesy of Island Creek Oysters

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