Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”, in which case we should be thankful for that bold man and any trip to Cape Cod should always include the consumption of one (or more) of these aesthetically challenged mollusks.
At one time oyster reefs stretched up the Eastern seaboard from Chesapeake Bay to Canada but over-fishing, pollution and development have wiped out most areas for wild oysters. A reef restoration experiment launched in 2009 by Mass Audubon and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration aims to restore a section of oyster reef in Wellfleet (the famous Wellfleet wild oysters of today are actually farmed on grants in other parts of the bay). This is no mean task given the fast moving tides of Wellfleet but would be a great step to restoring an historic wild oyster bed. For the successful growth of high-grade oysters you need a number of things to be present; cold waters to slow the oysters’ metabolisms that help give a sweeter taste; high salinity to give a sharper taste; fast-moving tides to increase the feeding of the beds; and clean water. These all naturally occur in Wellfleet and the local species of phytoplankton help to give the Wellfleet oysters their famous distinctive taste. Wellfleet oysters are world renown and are plump and clean with a distinctively good balance of creamy sweetness and brine. If you’re passing through Wellfleet, fresh local oysters can be found at most restaurants including The Wicked Oyster, Winslow’s Tavern, The Pearl and The Bookstore.
But the Wellfleet oyster is not the only Cape Cod oyster. There are Dennis, Eastham, Brewster and Orleans oysters. In fact there are those that say that the aquaculture oysters farmed in Quivet Neck, Dennis are in fact the tastiest on Cape Cod. In a blind-taste test held in Provincetown the Quivet Neck oyster was judged as the best tasting oyster on Cape Cod, a result that still does not sit well with the residents of Wellfleet! Aquaculture in Dennis was started in 1995 by Gerry Bojanowski and has grown into an area industry with 30 different oyster lots being farmed today. Juvenile oysters are sourced from approved North East hatcheries based in nearby Brewster or from Maine. The oysters are initially grown in bags and then as they grow they’re transplanted into cages of growing sizes. When they are around 3” in size they are ready for harvesting. Dennis has many of the same prevailing conditions as Wellfleet helping to make it a prime location for oyster aquaculture. The Quivet Neck oyster is only available at The Oyster Company restaurant, which is located close to the Dennisport/Harwich town line. The owner, Greg Burns, harvests the oysters at low tide 3 times a week and in the summer is selling @ 1000 oyster per day. The Quivet Neck oyster is less briny than Wellfleet but has a wonderfully sweet taste. If you do stop into the Oyster Company, I can recommend their signature dish, which is Sashimi Oyster (raw Quivet Neck oyster topped with tuna and wasabi aioli and scallions).
Whether you stick with the famous Wellfleet oyster or try the relatively recent Quivet Neck oyster, you will not be disappointed. Cape Cod is quite rightly recognized as one of the top oyster growing regions in the United States.
Editor’s Note: This blog post was contributed by Cape Cod resident Simon Hunton of the Platinum Pebble Inn, a boutique Bed & Breakfast in gorgeous Harwich, Massachusetts. Thank you, Simon! You’re making us hungry…