The State of Virginia is the largest producer of oysters, both wild and farm raised, on the East Coast with a 31 percent increase in sales in 2014 with more than 658,000 bushels, with a dockside value of 33.8 million dollars. Virginia’s Governor McAuliffe, an oyster lover for sure, launched the Virginia Oyster Trail and kicking off November as Virginia’s Oyster Month. There are seven areas on Virginia’s regional waterways: seaside, upper bay eastern shore, lower bay eastern shore, upper bay western shore, middle bay western shore, lower bay western shore and tidewater – each oyster with its own unique flavor.
Governor McAuliffe, along with the First Lady joined oyster farmers and wine producers at the Tides Inn in Irvington Virginia for the launch of the Oyster Trail. Virginia is the 5th largest wine producer in the United States and it was apropos to showcase and pair their wines and oysters. The governor sipped and slurped at each regional booth, including and nod to Tangier Island before his official decree for the press on the new Virginia Oyster Trail.
When the invite from Virginia Tourism invited me to cover and participate in the Governor’s launch of Virginia’s Oyster Trail, I cleared my calendar. Limitless oysters, there was no buck a shuck, as an oyster lover I was in.
My short 2 day sojourn included dinner at the Tides Inn and breakfast the morning of Governor McAuliffe’s proclamation. My home-away from home was the award winning Hope and Glory Inn, a historic school house turned into a boutique luxury inn located in Irvington Virginia as well as their vineyard the Dog and Oyster Winery.
A portion of the media outing was a tour of the Rappahannock Oyster Company and the final night’s dinner at their tasting room restaurant, Merroir just across from their oyster processing in Toppings, Virginia. This was not my first trip to an oyster farm, but it was very insightful and educational.
Co-owner of Rappahannock Oysters Ryan Croxton sat and chatted about the business of farm raised oysters. Virginia was one of the few regions that didn’t totally exhaust their wild oyster population but it was close. The Rappahannock Oyster Company continues to raise the oysters to mimic how they grow in the wild. Croxton waxed passionately, “The more you eat the oysters the more you are helping the waterways.” Filtering and cleaning 50 gallons of water per day, adult oysters aid in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.
We saw how the oyster spats start and are transitioned and sorted into tanks as they grow and then put in cages in the water to continue to eat, grow and be harvested. The oysters go through tumbler system and then are sorted by hand; some go back into the water others moving on to retail consumption. The Rappahannock Oyster Company has achieved national recognition the 2005 Tastemaker Award from Food & Wine, 2013 People Who Are Shaping Washington from the Washingtonian and Southern Living’s 50 People Who Are changing the South in 2015.
For those concerned about eating raw oysters, Croxton suggests, know your vendor, restaurant and/or brand.” The Oyster Trail website does note: Important consumer message – Oysters harvested from approved waters, packed under sanitary conditions, and properly refrigerated are usually safe for raw consumption by healthy individuals. Cooking oysters to an internal temperature of 140o F or greater for 4-6 minutes destroys the common microorganisms of public health concern. Oysters can be enjoyed in a variety of cooked preparations, including steamed, stewed, roasted, baked, broiled, sautéed, poached, and fried.
The Rappahannock Oyster Company name will be recognizable to many from their restaurant in Washington DC’s Union Market and their fine dining restaurant in Richmond Virginia.
The Virginia Oyster Trail was created for everyone and these succulent oysters might be the inspiration for Virginia’s slogan, “Virginia is for lovers.” After all, oysters are aphrodisiacs.
Wineries that participated in the Oyster Trail launch were Ingleside Vineyards, Dog & Oyster Vineyard, The Williamsburg Winery, Chatham Vineyards, Cardinal Point Winery, Afton Mountain Vineyards, Pearmund Cellars and Glass House Winery and the oyster farmers were Tom’s Cove Aquafarm, Tarkill Aquaculture Ventures, Shooting Point Oyster Company, Fat ‘N Happy Oyster Company, Old Salt Fisheries, Chessie Oyster Company and Ludford Brothers Oyster Company and Captain Lonnie Moore of Tangier Island.
“The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell” … Andrew Carnegie – oyster pearls of wisdom.
The Virginia Oyster Trail – www.virginiaoystertrail.com – Visit Virginia www.virginia.org/
Virginia Oyster Trail officially launched: Seven distinct destinations for oyster lovers