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.
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.
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.
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.
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.