La Tremblade

Story: Catherine Taralon
Photos: Marc Broussard

At the port of Tremblade, oysters proudly reflect the label Huîtres Charentes Maritimes, a community of over 1oo oyster growers. After four years of work and know-how, the flavor of these oysters can not be found anywhere else. Just like wine or cheese, it is a matter of ripening and terroir, an absorbing of the environment and flavors in which they are grown.

The channel of the Greve covers over two kilometers with huts of oyster farmers.  The only notes of color are the yellow, red, blue and green which frame windows and doors.

 

All oysters are tested and approved in the presence of a couple of “big pros,” Daniel Conseil and Patricia, who manage a nice affair. Oyster farmers for five generations, they claim “Here you do not hear the noise of the oysters sorted on the treadmill, you work like the old ones, everything is done by hand. Time, observation. We do not run after profitability. We must stay the course: quality and flavors. ”

They harvest the four-starred Pousse en claire, which means that only two, and at the most five, oysters grow in a square meter of clear water. Out of 1000 producers, only a hundred produce these oysters, designed for grand occasions.

Considered the Rolls Royce of the basin, these oysters are the top of the basket, the queen of the marshes. Known for their abundant pulp, they are dense and pleasant with an unrivaled texture and the pronounced taste of hazelnut. These oysters are given the highest award, Label Rouge Number 001, which was the very first prize won by Daniel!

From prehistory to the Greek and Roman civilizations, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, we find reference to these fine shells. But we must thank Louis XIV and Jean de la Fontaine who first introduced the oyster to be tasted raw and alive, and they were considered a great folly at Versailles.

Modern oyster farming ideally settles in an estuary with the mixture of saltwater and freshwater. The Portuguese arrived in France in the nineteenth century and took root in the Charentes Maritimes, growing oysters there. When this oyster population began to die off, the Marennes Oléron was introduced from Japan, and for more than 40 years these “Japanese” oysters are born and live under the water.

Patricia Conseil is an oyster woman who is quick on her hands or feet. She chose the craft of her husband, her “cowboy of the seas,” as she likes to call him. Not bad, for a young Parisian who was educated to go to work in an office in the heart of Paris. The proprietress tastes her oysters daily to follow their maturity and has done this for forty years. In the Conseil family, according to tradition, every Sunday they find themselves in front of the plateau of oysters. To see them work unremittingly, no doubt these shells bring enough zinc, iron, and vitamins to sustain their energy!

Bag or plastic mesh pockets in which oysters are easier to monitor and protected from predators.  Much attention is paid so that everything is in harmony with nature.

In the end, it takes 32 steps to produce an edible oyster after four years of growth and refining. Reproduction requires very delicate work called “capture”, and it takes thousands of eggs to yield dozens of “baby oysters” called a nessaim.  Natural nurseries can be seen all over the area.

The pearl of oysters is called La Fine de Claire. This oyster is green thanks to navicula, a blue algae produced in the basin. Because of this algae, we find oysters that are light green, very light, or dark. It takes four years for an oyster to be ready to savor, and given that an oyster’s lifetime is 60 years, if it’s too big, it’s too old.

In summer and winter with the Conseil family, we answer the phone, we make an appointment, we visit the parks, we listen, we learn and sometimes taste a little. As some have said of this family, they are, “Passionate oyster farmers living fully in a village that you must visit and that will force you to want to go back!”

A huge thank you to the region Charente-Maritime Tourisme which allowed us to discover La Tremblade.