December 2, 2011

Barnstable Oyster

A typical oyster from Barnstable Seafarms

Another great oyster from Barnstable Bay, grown very close to Beach Points and others, this one simply goes by the name Barnstable. Despite this closeness in geography to other oyster farms, the finished product is still unique -- a testament to just how the minute differences between methods can come through in flavor. 

Barnstable Seafarms is owned and operated by Les Hemmila, who employs only a few locals to help out with the operation. A Barnstable native, Les moved away at 15 to Summerland, California, then further afield to Indonesia where he helped to teach locals to build boats and create a viable fishing industry. A lifelong surfer, he ran charters on the islands for other surfers in his spare time (he still surfs to this day). Eventually, he moved back to Cape Cod, and settled back in his hometown, where he started growing oysters. He currently has leases in three separate areas, two in Barnstable Bay, and one in Osterville on the Atlantic side of the Cape where he over-winters his oysters. Icebergs and freezing temperatures in Barnstable Bay are very dangerous for oysters, so every fall he moves them to the warmer waters in Osterville, then back north in the spring after the ice has cleared. The warmer waters keep the oysters alive through the winter, but can prompt spawning in the summer months, so this is an area where very little actual production happens.

Like most oyster farmers, Les purchases his seed oysters from several hatcheries (sort of a "don't put all your eggs in one basket" mentality that seems to pay off). He takes this seed and places it in mesh bags raised off the bottom on rebar racks until it reaches about two inches in length, then these oysters are moved to wire trays laid on the sandy bottom or planted directly in the sand. One of the leases is more for show than production as it is easily accessed at low tide close to the shore, though more theft happens here because of the accessibility. However, this is typically the extent of predation in this area, a fact not lost on the farmers here. (Moon snails exist here, but are typically more of a problem for clams than oysters raised off the sea floor)

Deeply cupped at three inches long, with bright salinity and a nice sweetness, these oysters are spectacular on the half shell. Ideally, if you can find a raw bar with several Barnstable Bay varieties, try them next to each other and taste the differences for yourself. 

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