You may not know this about me, but I’ve spent EVERY summer of my life since 1984 on the shores of Southeast New Brunswick at our family cottage nestled between Cocagne and Bouctouche.
When I was little, I remember going out into the water to cool off on a hot day and I would always come back to shore with a bucket full of ocean snacks that I’d gathered from the sandbars and underwater sea grass beds.
From fresh bar clams to quahaugs to razor clams – I would eat it all.
Oysters have always been a part of my life – they’re basically a food group for me. But over the years, I began to grow more curious about these bivalves as aquaculture farms started popping up along the coast I drive along every summer, including one just out front of our family cottage.
This summer, I wanted to learn more about exactly HOW oysters are grown, farmed, and harvested off the shores I grew up on, so I partnered with my friends at NB Food and Beverages and Kevin Williams, known around these waters as “Oyster Kev” from Little Shemogue Oyster Company to hit the seas and explore.
Today, I’m excited to share some of the interesting facts that I learned AND share a few bonus ideas of how YOU can enjoy some delicious, fresh oysters from our coastline this summer!
One of the number one questions that I was asked when I shared on Instagram that I was spending the day on the ocean with Oyster Kev to learn more about where oysters come from and how they are farmed was – where do baby oysters come from?
When two oysters fall in love, obviously!
OK, OK – kidding aside. Despite oysters being a known aphrodisiac for humans, oysters reproductive habits aren’t nearly as exciting as other species in the oceans – dolphins, I’m looking at you 👀
So how exactly DO oysters reproduce? As it turns out, they’re VERY good at mass producing, which is why our oyster farms in New Brunswick are thriving.
And baby oysters or “spats” as they’re called, are a BIG business in New Brunswick.
We farm spats that are sent to producers around the world who are raising Virginica oysters. New Brunswick company Mallet Oysters, in Shippagan, is making major waves in this industry and have been involved in shellfish aquaculture for over 45 years.
Here’s how it goes down!
When the ocean water reaches the right temperature, the male oyster will release his sperm into the water, while a female oyster releases her eggs. The female oyster can release up to hundreds of millions of eggs. That’s a lot of bébé oysters!
Once an egg is fertilized, it becomes a larva and will swim around, until it lands and sticks in an oyster farm’s floating cement collector. Oyster farms have hundreds of these bobbing in the bays and are essentially an “oyster nursery.”
Once in the collector, it will grow until oyster farmers retrieve the young oysters and move them to the bags and boxes you see floating in the water along the Southeast New Brunswick coastline.
From there, they will be carefully tended to by oyster farmers for 4-5 years before they are pulled from the ocean, tumbled to give them that perfect look and shape (yes, just like seaglass) and ready to be sold and enjoyed by mermaids and seafood lovers everywhere.
While New Brunswick is known for shipping oysters around the world, we are so lucky to have plenty of opportunities and places to buy local oysters right here in the province, including local fish markets, farmers’ markets, and your favorite grocery store! There’s just no excuse not to buy local oysters for good!
One of my favorite ways to describe how an oyster should taste is that it should taste like a “mermaid kiss” — just like the sea!
If you visit your local fish market, Farmers’ Market or grocery store, you may notice that there are many “different” oysters to choose from that come from New Brunswick. Which may beg the question – are there different types or species? And do they all have their own unique taste?
While New Brunswick has many oyster producers and farmers, our oysters are in fact all the same species: virginica! You may also hear them called Atlantic Oysters!
Like wine, oysters take on the flavour profile of the environment they’re raised in. We call this “merroir.”
Kind of like how we refer to the environments and factors such as soil, climate, topography and more where wine is produced as “terroir.”
When you explore the New Brunswick coastline, you can easily experience the unique flavours hidden in each bay. Each oyster is influenced by the water and minerals where it was grown.
Like a fine wine, there is an oyster for every occasion.
Perhaps one of the BEST parts about living in New Brunswick is that we have fresh oysters in our waters that are harvested year-round! Meaning there is no need to save them only for summer months – you can eat them, 12 months out of the year.
The virginica oyster species also have a longer shelf-life and can stay fresh in the coolest part of your refrigerator for up to 30 days, which is perfect for mermaids who like to always have fresh oysters in the fridge in case company stops by.
It’s a cottage by the sea essential!
And if you’re wondering how oysters spend their winters in the ocean with our frigid winter weather in Atlantic Canada, turns out – our oysters have their own party trick! They can hibernate and seal up tightly in the winter to stay safe and cozy until spring. How cool is that?
By now, you’re probably dreaming about stopping by your local fish market or Farmers’ Market to pick up some fresh oysters to enjoy this weekend.
I thought I’d share a few ways that I love to serve and enjoy oysters at home.
First, you can enjoy them as they are! Remember, a fresh oyster tastes just like the sea! And oysters are delicious on their own!
Some folks, like my husband, love to add a splash of their favorite hot sauce to their oysters. You may notice that when you travel outside of the Maritimes and enjoy oysters in places like Maine or Florida, they will be served with a bottle of Tabasco on the side.
Another common way to serve fresh shucked oysters is with a lemon wedge for squeezing or a side of horseradish – one of my favorite add-ons to oysters! Especially if it’s freshly shaved horseradish.
And of course, oysters pair beautifully with a sweet and savoury mignonette!
This is common in restaurants but if you’re looking to create your own mignonette at home, may I recommend this recipe for a delicious New Brunswick wild blueberry mignonette? With blueberry season in full swing, I can’t recommend this recipe enough!
Well, shucks. I sure had a splash of a time learning about oysters and I hope that you did too.
If you enjoyed this post, make sure to leave a comment or send me a message on my shell phone to share what surprised you most about our New Brunswick oysters and their unique features.
And remember – let’s all start buying buying local oysters for good!
Boatloads of thanks to the team at NB Food and Beverages for sponsoring this post and to Kevin Williams “Oyster Kev” from Little Shemogue Oyster Company for taking me on a little oyster adventure in Cocagne to learn more about our local oyster farms.