“What we have here are people who have dedicated their lives to doing the extra work and putting in the extra time and spending the extra money to bring you something that’s farmed and more sustainable, and to be completely honest with you, it’s a better product,” Rackley told the group. He added that the farmers were “making Atlanta a better dining community and the South a better place to live.”
Walton, a New Jersey native, who independently farmed oysters in Cape Cod before moving south for the job at Auburn, told the story of his first encounters with Gulf oysters as a way of illustrating the problem and the potential in the region.
“The summer I came to Auburn to interview for the job, I went to a raw bar in Mobile and ordered oysters. My wife thought I was crazy, ordering oysters in the summer in Alabama. And I’ll be honest, they were some of the worst oysters I’ve ever had. They were bland, they were small and large, the sizes were all over the place, and they were muddy.
“I was lucky enough to get the job, and in January that next year, we went to the same raw bar and I ordered oysters. I’m not making this up, they were some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. That is the issue. When you sell oysters that could be perceived as some of the worst or some of the best, it doesn’t work.”
Walton’s answer, of course, is farming and branding, which creates a quality, consistent product. It’s also sustainable, creates habitat for fish and crabs, and helps clean up the environment.
The aquaculture farms represented ranged from Dauphin Island in Alabama to the Ace Basin in South Carolina, with a surprising range of flavors from briny to sweet to earthy and, well, essentially oystery.
A particular favorite, Murder Point oysters from Alabama’s Sandy Bay Oyster Company were super salty but mild. They’re grown with a long-line system developed in Australia, and we were told that Murder Point oysters “are worth killing for!”
While that may be territorial hyperbole, it seems certain that eating oysters from the Southeast is going to get a lot more exciting in the near future.
With more farms and more unique oyster appellations available, we might soon be talking about the taste of the sea “terroir” of Southeast oysters like we talk about wine or cheese.