|A classy-looking Widow's Hole.|
In my dealings with oyster farmers, I find it interesting just how many of them have come to oyster farming after doing something else. For some, that "something else" involves a life in/around the sea (fishing, lobstering, etc.), but some come from careers very different (one of the farmers at Island Creek was previously a metallurgist for GE). This was the case for Mike Osinski, founder of Widow's Hole Oysters. Once a successful software engineer, he retired to his house in Greenport, NY, and started learning about the rich history of oystering in the area. And as soon as he realized that he owned 500 feet from the shore of his property, it was all over: he was going to farm oysters. So much for retirement.
As it turns out, Mike's location on Peconic Bay is an ideal location for oysters. Greenport Harbor lies on the North Fork of Long Island, separated from Shelter Island by a narrow stretch of the Peconic Bay. This narrowness is key to the success of the Widow's Hole oysters, as it forces all of the tidal waters entering and leaving the main bay to flush through two straits, one on either side of the island, bringing all the nutrients, plankton, and algae back and forth past the area where the oysters are grown. In essence, this tidal flushing of nutrients gives the oysters access to more food than they could possibly consume, allowing them to grow fat and fast. Mike grows all his oysters off-bottom in bags and cages, and keeps the rapid growth in check by handling the oysters often -- this is actually more necessary than it sounds, as rapid growth means that the oysters need to be sized and redistributed regularly. This also allows him to keep predation to a minimum, a major problem for any oysters grown within reach of the sea floor. Whelks, oyster drills, and crabs all can wreak havoc on oysters grown this way if they are not constantly monitored.
Since 2004, Mike has been personally delivering his oysters to restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn every tuesday, selling 4,000-5,000 oyster per week from September through May. "The only oyster delivered to NYC same-day fresh," is one of his favorite refrains, and a true one: he only removes from the water what he will sell that week, and keeps them in the water until the morning of delivery. The man is quite a character to boot; he knows a lot of the local history of Greenport, especially related to oysters, and loves to talk to people about what he does. If you ever get the chance to talk to him, please do, you won't regret it.
Oh, and the oysters are really good. Relatively large shells hide a full, plump oyster with a medium brine and a hint of iron on the finish. You can find these on many oyster lists across the city, but rarely beyond, so slurp a few if you find them.