33 Books Co. Blog
"Are There Really 33 Kinds of Oyster?" May 28 2015
When Julie Qiu of the In a Half Shell oyster blog approached me about collaborating on an oyster journal, I wasn't sure. I like oysters quite a bit personally, but are there really enough out there for a whole book? "Definitely," was her answer, and after spending time working with her on this new member of the "33" family, and sampling several dozen oysters, I'm delighted to say I agree with her!
America is home to five distinct species of oysters, and every bay or inlet where they are grown provides another layer of differentiation. Oyster aficionados call this sense of place "merroir," after the French word "terroir," and we can borrow one more wine word while we're at it: appellation, or "place name." There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of US oyster appellations, and 33 Oysters is a way to track your journey as you sample them.
Terroir is a term most commonly applied to wine grapes, and it refers to the unique properties of a wine's home that can show in a wine's flavor and aroma. Soil quality, rainfall, altitude, sunlight and many other geography-related factors can decide why a Chardonnay grown in Champagne tastes this way, and this California version - same grape, remember - tastes completely different.
In the same way, merroir can help explain the differences in flavor between different oysters. A C. gigas (aka "Pacific oyster") grown in Netarts Bay, Oregon tastes completely different from the C. gigas grown farther north in Washington.
Which is all a very long way of saying, "There are a LOT of oysters out there."
Recommended reading: A Geography of Oysters, by Rowan Jacobsen