|An Island Creek oyster, in all its glory.|
Island Creek Oysters started when Skip Bennett first planted some on his quahog lease in Duxbury Bay after a few years of failure to make it work. It is lucky for us that the oysters quickly to the ecology of the bay, or these might not exist today. No one had ever farmed oysters in this particular bay in Massachusetts, you see, so people were skeptical when Skip tried. The company grew over the years as he was joined by a few others: Christian Horne (an oyster farmer from Maine), Donny Berry (owner of a local fish market), and Bill Bennett (Skip's father and long-time lobsterman). Currently, they have a large crew and are distributing oysters grown by other local farms, oversee their own non-profit foundation teaching aquaculture in Africa, and travel to many festivals and fundraisers. Quite a change from their humble beginnings. (If you want to know more of the history of the farm and crew, visit their website)
The basic process is as follows: seed goes into the upwellers in early spring, just as the weather starts to warm up (they have always purchased the seed, but are in the process of starting their own hatchery); once it's grown a bit, it either goes out into the bay, protected by bags placed in large racks, or up into the floating nursery in the upper marsh to continue to grow; finally, the oysters are "planted" on the lease (a process of either shoveling them out of a boat into the water, or shaking them out of bags at low tide to rest directly on the bay floor. To harvest, they mostly dredge the oysters from the lease -- in this case actually a sustainable method, since they are continually dredging and replenishing the same area -- but at very low tides (called "drainers") they are picked by hand from the mud.
At Island Creek, they have a special cull for one of their high-profile customers: Thomas Keller. Chef Keller uses Island Creek oysters for his Oysters and Pearls dish, served both at Per Se and the French Laundry. These oysters are small, about 2 1/2 inches, and perfectly rounded and regular. Perfection on the half shell.