Reprinted from the fall issue of The Wave
Maine’s oyster industry too often gets eclipsed by the bib wearers looking for crustaceans, but for the die-hard oyster connoisseur, nothing is better in the fall than the briny goodness of a plump oyster grown in Maine’s cold waters. Luckily, in the Midcoast, we have access to some of the best varieties grown in the world.
Oyster expert Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Oyster Guide explains why.
“Oysters reproduce in summer, when water temperatures peak. As they convert their energy reserves to gamete, they tend to taste a little, well, gamey. In Fall, however, they fatten up for hibernation, filling their bodies with savory amino acids and sweet starches. That’s why a November oyster is so firm and delicious, and a July oyster generally isn’t.”
More than 16 varieties of Maine oysters are sold year round under various brands, usually labeled most by the region from which they came. We contacted three seafood markets in the Midcoast to find out what they carry and what customers prefer. In order of preference, here are some distinctive brands that can be found locally.
These are probably the most well known oyster in the Midcoast, raised in the plankton-rich waters of the Damariscotta River in Lincoln County. They even have their own annual festival named after them. According to its website, Pemaquid Oysters are “held in the cold, briny Class A waters of Clark’s Cove near the river’s mouth, where the oysters obtain their distinctive clean, salty and refreshing flavor.”
Another Damariscotta River grower, Glidden Point Oyster Company, raises “cultured oysters well known around the world for their uniform size and shape, deep shell cup, and superb freshness.” Their oysters are grown on the river estuary, fed by naturally occurring phytoplankton. They harvest using a variety of methods, including diving, snorkeling, hand-picking, raking, and dragging, using the method best suited for the particular lease site substrate.
These are harvested from the Weskeag River in South Thomaston. According to the Oyster Guide by Rowan Jacobsen, “Weskeags have that ultra-briny Maine flavor profile, with a little something unusual behind the salt — a savory miso soup kind of taste, all kelp and smoky dashi.”
These come from Cushing. Jillian Bedell writes in her blog From Away that they are “Slender, with an opalescent inside and tender meat. Very innocuous. A good starter oyster for the timid.”
As the name implies, these are harvested off an old salt pond on North Haven, 12 miles off the Maine coast. A review on OysteRater describes them as a “Very nice oyster with great brine and sweet finish. Lovely green hue to the shells as well, and they shuck cleanly...these are really nice in a small package!”
The John’s River Oyster Farm is partially located in the Damariscotta River and John's River in the Midcoast. The Oyster Guide says these “deliver intense fruitiness, sweetness, and brine all at the same time. It’s really unusual, and it’s followed by a mouth-filling clammy umami taste.”
These are harvested at Taunton Bay in Acadia and described by Pangea Shellfish Company as “Plump and silky with a “buttery Chardonnay finish.”
Ranging from $1.50 to $2 a piece, these babies are a coveted treat. Just get a shucking glove and a proper oyster shucking knife so you don’t end up in the E.R.
Places in Midcoast Maine that sell these varieties, and more
Off The Hook, Belfast
Graffam Brother’s Seafood Market, Rockport
Jess’s Market, Rockland
Beth’s Farm Market, Warren
Glidden Point Oyster Farm, Edgecomb
Restaurants/bars that sell “by the oyster”
Front Street Pub, Belfast (Fridays, all day $1.75 each)
Chez Michel, Lincolnville (Happy Hour $1.50)
McLaughlins Lobster Shack, Lincolnville $1.50)
Oyster Bar at The Pearl, Rockland (Mondays $1)
Archer’s on the Pier, Rockland (Bloody Shooter: A single shucked oyster in a petite Stoli Bloody Mary $4.99)
Primo, Rockland (Thursdays and Sundays for $1)
Newcastle Publick House, Newcastle (If you ask, they can do singles for $1.25)
Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm, Edgecomb (Shuck ‘em yourself - $1.25 from 8 am to dusk.)
Schooner Landing Restaurant, Damariscotta (Free Oyster Fridays at 4 p.m.)
Note: if you would like to reuse portions of this article or photos, please contact the author for permission.
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.