Consider the (PEI) Oyster
Prince Edward Island oysters are a delicacy in high demand around the world. Our warm, shallow, food-rich bays and estuaries provide excellent growing conditions for oysters, and the quality of our oysters reflects the water quality, local minerals, salinity, and the type of nutrients available in our waters. Different bays and coves provide numerous distinct tastes profiles for the oyster connoisseur and foodie, with lots of options for different preparations, as well as wine and beer pairings.
When Acadians first settled PEI, wild oysters were so plentiful that large quantities were actually spread over the land as fertilizer, and the shells burned for the lime they produced. With increased shipping and railroad systems coming to PEI in the late 1800’s, oyster farming and exports began in earnest as new markets opened up around the world; Malpeque oysters were even named the worlds best oyster at the 1900 Paris world fair!
Over the past 30 years, both the wild and cultured oyster industry has seen huge growth, making a name for PEI as a destination for seafood lovers.
There are two sizes of oysters that are marketed on Prince Edward Island; the traditional oyster measuring over 76mm in length and the cocktail oyster, measuring under 76mm. Beyond size, oyster grades are determined by shell shape; they include choice, standard, and commercial, all taking between 5 and 7 years to reach maturity.
Prince Edward Island harvesters take great pride in their oysters, using traditional harvesting methods like rakes, tongs, and dredges. The four main oyster producing areas on PEI are the Bedeque, Malpeque, Raspberry/Pickle Point, and Colville Bay areas. Each area produces oysters that are unique to it’s surrounding environment, the terroir of oyster cultivation.
Oysters are available year-round on PEI, but connoisseurs will tell you that the best time to eat them is during months that contain the letter “R”. This means that the best time to enjoy them is September through to the end of April, when our waters are coldest.
While oysters are still totally safe to eat in other months, May through August is when oysters spawn, or reproduce. This results in a fleshier and somewhat less flavourful, but still delicious oyster.
When choosing the best oysters, look for hard shells that are firmly closed. When knocked gently, they should have a “full” instead of hollow sound, and they should be heavy for their size and smell like the sea, never fishy or strong-smelling. Oysters need to be kept in the fridge or on ice at all times, covered with a damp towel in a clean container.
Most oyster aficionados will tell you that the only way to eat them is freshly shucked and on the half-shell. This certainly is delicious, but can be a bit daunting for the newcomer. Oysters can also be baked or broiled, deep-fried, barbecued, smoked or put in a stew.
How to Pair:
When choosing wines to pair with oysters, look for something that won’t compete with the crisp, clean flavours of the shellfish. Think about what types of foods you’d normally pair with them- lemon, butter, bread and fresh herbs.
Try choosing wines with the same characteristics: Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc, prosecco and citrus-y beers are great with raw oysters. Rosé and malty ales pair well with creamy, buttery baked oysters. Pale ales and Champagnes are a great pair with fried oysters and shellfish.