By Jess Taylor of The Wandering Mollusk
For most of us, oysters are simply a sauce delivery vehicle, a fun thing to slurp down when enjoying happy hour.
Never-ending $1.50 oysters and an assortment of flavour combinations in front of you… a lemon squeeze here, hot sauce drops and interesting mignonettes. Better not forget the horseradish! Good times out with great friends and lots of laughs.
But over time you begin to wonder… what’s under the sauce; what does an oyster ACTUALLY taste like? It turns out there’s a whole world of tastes, flavours and nuances I didn’t know about.
Much like wine, oysters have their own micro climates that embody the flavour of all that happens in their environment. And, just like it does with wine, this binds oysters to a particular place and time. The body of water around them, the algaes they feed on, the seaweeds below them, the sun and storms above them or rivers from which they’re near all change and influence the flavours you will experience.
Wine and oysters are similar – the marine equivalent “merroir” is borrowed from the wine term “terroir”.
To simplify, look at merroir as the unique identity to the oysters from their environment. An oyster’s merroir is fleeting and ever changing. It may be subtle but an oyster will never be the same …
We all understand that different years of a wine grape are better than some. A really bad year happened because of too much rain but the next year an amazing harvest was captured all because it was a few degrees hotter that summer.
Most people can certainly taste those differences. And for oyster lovers you certainly can too. Those small differences that make your glass of wine so special easily translate to a plate of freshly shucked oysters sitting in front of you. What you taste is a moment in place and time and that’s where the specialness of your experience lies. The perfect mixture of things that happened specifically to an oyster can never be repeated. It will always be slightly different … and that’s where your new oyster experience lies.
There are days I like to savour the oyster experience and explore tasting sweet, briny and buttery flavours. On the hunt for the cucumber, lettuce, rusty copper mineral notes or compare a brackish oyster near an estuary to a green tasting oyster grown over a kelp bed.
Then there are days I want to sit down with my friends and order a big plate of perfectly shucked oysters. Nothing to worry about except what crazy sauce combination I’m going to douse the oyster in as I flip their shells upside down, counting them off as I reflect on how perfect things are in this exact place and time.
Key tasting notes to look for:
Cucumber, kiwi, lettuce, seaweed, vegetative
Salty, brine, brackish
Rusty, copper, mineral
Buttery, Creamy, custardy
Crisp, Clean, refreshing
Jess Taylor is the man (and head shucker) behind The Wandering Mollusk. Jess is a proud West Coaster with a passion for the oyster, sustainability and good times.