FFV: Virginia Oysters are Awesome

by Patrick Evans-Hylton | Posted: Nov 7, 2014 | Updated: Feb 19, 2016

Comments: 2 Comments

Updated November 10, 2015.

When English settlers arrived here, landing at Cape Henry in present-day Virginia Beach in April 26, 1607, a new world was ahead of them, including new foods and foodways to explore.

And explore they did; within two days they found their way to Lynnhaven Bay; diarist George Percy wrote:

“We came to a place where they had made a great fire and had been newly a roasting oysters. When they perceived our coming, they fled away to the mountains and left many of the oysters in the fire. We ate some of the oysters, which were very large and delicate in taste.”

It’s the first food review in English-speaking America.

The oysters that made such an impression on them are still available to us now, and are easier to find and enjoy thanks to the brand new Virginia Oyster Trail, a 250-mile guide to oyster farms, watermen tours, renown restaurants, and more.

Rappahannock Restaurant

Rappahannock Restaurant

The species Crassostrea virginica, also called the Eastern, the Atlantic or Virginia oysters are abundant, not just in the Lynnhaven Bay, but along the Atlantic Coast In the Chesapeake Bay, and in the many bays, rivers and creeks that feed into these great bodies of water.

Virginia is the oyster capital of the East Coast, producing beautiful bivalves in seven distinct growing regions, all which, like wine grapes, takes on a true sense of place in their flavor profiles.

Compare this to the way terroir influences wine grapes – its the merroir – the minerality, including saline – of a particular growing area, as well as climate features, influences oysters.

Yes, you can tell a difference in taste from one to the other. Some are salty, some are sweet. Some meet in the middle. Something for everyone’s tastes.

Oysters are one of the FFVs – Fabulous Flavors of Virginia – a food or foodway calling card that makes the state such a tasty place to visit – and to live.

Here’s a Virginia Oyster Primer for you:

 

— VIRGINIA OYSTER REGIONS —

Try an oyster. Try two. Try some from each of the seven distinct oyster growing regions in Virginia.

And while we love a good Oyster Rockefeller or fried oyster, do try them raw, too, to make sure their subtle tastes are not lost under spinach and cheese or a coating of batter.

And don’t slurp – you’ll miss the flavor profile that way.

Hold the oyster cup to your lips and let the oyster and its liquor slide into your mouth.

Chew a bit. Hold it in your mouth; start to become aware of the flavors. Chew a bit more.

Look for notes of butter, cream, minerals, salt, sweet. Notice how long the flavor lingers on the tongue.

Soon you’ll be a Virginia oyster expert.

Virginia's Seven Oyster Regions

Region 1 – Seaside, east from Cape Charles along the Eastern Shore and north to the state line

  • Saltiness – Strong
  • Buttery/Creamy – Slight
  • Sweetness – Slight

“Initial bold saltiness mellowing into a taste of sweet butter/cream at the finish.”

Some common names/brands from the area:

Ballard/Cherrystone, Broadwater Salts, Chincoteague, Indian Rock, Olde Salts, Sewansecott, Tom’s Cove

Pair with a Virginia wine; we recommend:

Vertias Vineyard & Winery, Scintilla sparkling

 

Region 2 – Upper Bay Eastern Shore, north from around Onancock along the Eastern Shore to the state line

  • Saltiness – Moderate
  • Buttery/Creamy – Barely Perceptible
  • Sweetness – Slight

“Classic Virginia Bay oyster flavor with balanced salt and sweet, with a savory finish.”

Some common names/brands from the area:

Battle Creek, Dixie Belles, Pungoteague Creek

Pair with a Virginia wine; we recommend:

Paradise Springs Winery, Sommet Blanc

 

Region 3 – Lower Bay Eastern Shore, south from around Onancock along the Eastern Shore to Cape Charles 

  • Saltiness – Very Noticeable
  • Buttery/Creamy – Slight
  • Sweetness – Slight

“Salty and creamy with mellow sweetness and a quick finish.”

Some common names/brands from the area:

Nandua, Ruby Salts, Sandy Point, Shooting Point

Pair with a Virginia wine; we recommend:

Blue Bee Cider, Charred Ordinary

 

Region 4 – Upper Bay Western Shore, from the mouth of the Rappahannock River north along the Northern Neck shore and west into the Potomac River

  • Saltiness – Moderate
  • Buttery/Creamy – Barely Perceptible
  • Sweetness – Barely Perceptible

“Sweetwater oyster with a light cream taste.”

Some common names/brands from the area:

Bevans Oysters, Clippers, Deltaville Oyster Co., Fleets Bay, Schooners, Skipjacks, Windmill Point

Pair with a Virginia wine; we recommend:

Barrel Oak Winery, Bowhaus White

 

Merroir

Rappahannock River Oysters

Region 5 – Middle Bay Western Shore, the Rappahannock River and south along the mainland shore to about midway along the Middle Peninsula

  • Saltiness – Moderate
  • Buttery/Creamy – Slight
  • Sweetness – Slight

“Lightly salty with easily distinguished cream or butter and a pleasant slight minerality.”

Some common names/brands from the area:

Chapel Creek Oyster Company, Rappahannock River Oysters, Shores & Ruark

Pair with a Virginia wine; we recommend:

Chatham Vineyards, Church Creek Steel Fermented Chardonnay

 

The Region 6 – Lower Bay Western Shore, from about midway along the Middle Peninsula south along the mainland shore to, and including, the York River

  • Saltiness – Moderate
  • Buttery/Creamy – Barely Perceptible
  • Sweetness – Barely Perceptible

“Mild saltiness moving to a sweet finish.”

Some common names/brands from the area:

Dandylicious, Eagle Flats, Forbidden Oysters, Mobjack Bay, Stingray Oysters, York River Oysters, Yorkster

Pair with a Virginia wine; we recommend:

Dog & Oyster Vineyard, Vidal Blanc

The Dog & Oyster Vineyards

The Dog & Oyster Vineyards

 

Region 7 – Tidewater, from the mouth of the York River south, including the James River, Nansemond River, Elizabeth River and the Hampton Roads coast from Ocean View west to Cape Henry, including Lynnhaven Bay

  • Saltiness – Very Noticeable
  • Buttery/Creamy – Barely Perceptible
  • Sweetness – Slight

“Salty oyster with sweetness and a smooth finish.”

Some common names/brands from the area:

Church Point, James River, Lynnhaven River, Lynnhaven Oyster Co., Nansemond River, Pleasure House Oysters, York Point Oysters

Pair with a Virginia wine; we recommend:

Barboursville Vineyards, Pinot Grigio

 

Note: flavors of oysters can change slightly depending on the time of the year they are harvested.

This information is adapted from the Virginia Aquaculture Oyster Growers website.

 

— VIRGINIA OYSTER MONTH —

Anytime is a good time for Virginia oysters, but this month is a little more special with the designation of Virginia Oyster Month.

Reedville Fishermen's Museum Oyster Roast

Reedville Fishermen’s Museum Oyster Roast

Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that November is Virginia Oyster Month, saying:

“Virginia oysters are the best in the world, and they play an increasingly important role in growing our economy and keeping the Chesapeake Bay clean.

My team and I are working hard to make Virginia the Oyster Capital of the East Coast, and I hope Virginians will join us by enjoying local, fresh and delicious Virginia oysters during the month of November.”

In 2013 more than 500,000 bushels of oysters were harvested – the most in nearly a generation.

Across the state, celebrations of the crustacean is taking place from oyster roasts to oyster dinners and more.

On the Eastern Shore, it’s Virginia Wine & Brine Month, with a myriad of events from Cape Charles to Chincoteague.

For events across the state, check out the Culinary Events page.

 

— RECIPES —

While there is nothing quite like a freshly shucked oyster, some folks like a little embellishment, whether it is a shake of hot sauce, a dip in cocktail sauce, a splash of freshly squeezed lemon or a dash of freshly ground horseradish added on top.

Oyster Fixin's

Oyster Fixin’s

If you’d like to add a little somethin’ somethin’ to your oysters, here are three of my go-to recipes for toppings.

Creamy Horseradish Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup sour cream

1/4 cup prepared horseradish

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, horseradish, salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

Yields about 1 cup

Classic Mignonette Sauce

Ingredients

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoon minced shallot

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallot and pepper. Serve immediately.

Yields about 1/2 cup

Red Hot Dipping Sauce

Ingredients

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup hot sauce

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

In a medium bowl whisk together the butter, hot sauce, lemon juice and pepper. Serve immediately.

Yields about 1 cup

 

Patrick Evans-HyltonPatrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, is a Norfolk, Va.-based food journalist, historian and educator. His work has appeared in print, television, radio and social media since 1995. Evans-Hylton calls his cookbook, Dishing Up Virginia, his love letter to the state’s foods and foodways. He blogs at PatrickEvansHylton.com

 

 

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2 Comments on "FFV: Virginia Oysters are Awesome"

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J perakes
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Great article

thriftygypsy87
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The “new kid on the block” for the Potomac region would be Potomac River Oysters. Great oysters, great service, good price! http://proyster.com (I’m not affiliated with the company.)

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