This video in our Ingredients Sourced series takes a look at the amazing team who brough Carlingford oysters into the spotlight. While visiting with the team we learned so much about how the oysters go from being very small to being big enough for sale. The team at Carlingford Oysters have steps throughout the process which ensure the oysters are the ideal shape and size making for some delicious oysters which are served up throughout Northern Ireland and internationally.
Who Produces Carlingford Oysters?
Carlingford Oysters is owned and operated by Louiët Feisser whose father started the business in the 1970’s. Louiët works with a dedicated team who help to sort, farm, harvest, and pack the oysters throughout the three year growing season. Farming great quality oysters is a laborious task which takes a lot of effort and this team take all the necessary steps to ensure the best quality of oyster for their customers.
The History of Carlingford Oysters
In order to grow oysters you need the right conditions as oysters live off the nutrients in the water and won’t grow if there’s an inadequate amount of greenery in the water. Waters with a lot of seaweed and greenery provide great nutrients to grow great oysters which taste good and are a good size. Carlingford has the ideal waters for growing oysters and people have been farming oysters in Carlingford for over 100 years.
In the 1970’s when Louiët’s father started out there wasn’t a lot of demand for oysters in Northern Ireland and their oysters were sent away to the UK or France. Through the growth of their business Carlingford Oysters have been able to increase the demand for their oysters and raise awareness of the great oysters which are produced in Carlingford.
The oysters produced by Carlingford Oysters are now seen on restaurant menus around Ireland and Northern Ireland and more and more people are enjoying this beautiful seafood.
What Steps Are Involved in the Carlingford Oyster Growing Process
A fully grown oyster which is ready to be sold is between 60 and 70 grams in weight but when they come to Carlingford Oysters they are nowhere near that big. They start out around a tenth of a gram and around the size of a fingernail. The process of getting them to this size while maintaining a uniform shape and size is the challenge they face. It is a process which takes three years from start to finish. Here are the steps of the process:
In order to get oysters which have uniform growth they are first sorted into size categories in a process called grading. The first grading is done through a large sorting trough where they fall into four different trays dependant on their size. This process ensures that all the oysters put in a bag together are growing at a similar rate improving uniformity.
This is not the only time the oysters will be graded as they may change their rate of growth throughout the cycle. At the end of each year throughout the three years of growth they are graded again to ensure they are still growing alongside similar oysters.
Oysters that come from Carlingford Oysters are grown in bags which are submerged in the sea with only about ten percent of the bag filled at the start but with the growth they will eventually fill completely. During this growth it is important that the bags are moved around to break off new growth of shell, encouraging the oyster to grow a deep shell.
This can be done one of two ways, manually or via a rigging system. Manual oyster shaking takes a long time and its intensive work to do, some of the oysters produced by Carlingford Oysters are turned and shaken this way. Due to the length of time it takes to complete a manual turning it could only be complete once a month.
An alternative to the manual turning of the oyster bags is the rigging which has been set up by Carlingford Oysters to turn them using the power of the tide. One end of the bag is rigged with a float and the other is attached to the rig. When the tide comes in the bag floats and moves around the bag, breaking off shell growth. This means the oysters are turned twice a day rather than once a month.
Moving Out Of The Water
To ensure the oysters are ready to come out of the water and be shipped to customers they are moved further up the beach towards the main farm buildings. This means they will be out of the water for up to twelve hours a day instead of the usual one hour that happens when they are further in the water.
By doing this the shelf life of the oysters is increased from 2 to 3 days to up to 12 days as the oysters are used to being out of the water and won’t open or dry out as quickly.
Harvesting and Final Grading
Once the oysters are harvested they are again measured to see what size and weight they are. They are then sorted into many colours of crate. Different sizes of oyster are used for different dishes or to suit client tastes.
Oysters from Carlingford Oysters are hand packed to ensure they stay fresh. By packing an oyster with the deep shell down you ensure the moisture doesn’t leak out. If the moisture leaks out the oyster will dry up and may open and die or just be unappetising. The team ensure their oysters are all packed deep side down to retain the quality.
How to Shuck An Oyster
Louiët was kind enough to give a demonstration on how to shuck an oyster as this is a hurdle which puts off many buyers. Check out this clip to learn how you can shuck your own oysters at home.
What Should You Serve Your Oysters With?
Oysters are commonly served raw and can be served with light garnishes which enhance the flavour. Louiët recommends a squeeze of lemon juice, a dash of tabasco, or even a mignonette. A mignonette is a sauce made with shallots, vinegar, and sugar. It goes great with oysters.
From the 1970’s with Louiët’s father to now Carlingford Oysters have been constantly improving to grow the best oysters they can. Next time you spot a Carlingford Oyster on a seafood menu make sure to try it and think on all the years of work which went in to making it possible.
Want to learn more about cooking seafood and other great produce? Check out our Belfast Cookery School series.