Sampling Maine’s Regional Oysters: Take the Trail & Experience the Flavors
Everyone knows that lobster is the quintessential Maine food, however we also have another “secret weapon” in our larder. The same marine ecosystem that produces Maine’s succulent lobster also works for producing some amazingly noteworthy oysters. The region’s cold, pristine waters and sheltered, tidal rivers are optimal for Crassostrea virginica (East coast oysters), and Maine is increasingly being recognized as one of the country’s premier oyster regions, evidenced by the high product demand.
To get an idea of just how prevalent oysters are in Maine, if you travel for example along the riverbanks Damariscotta and Newcastle—where many Maine oysters are grown—you will see piles and piles of middens, an indication of the thousands of years that people have been eating oysters in the area.
Photo: Courtesy of Glidden Point Oyster Farm
Today, Maine has a rapidly growing oyster farming industry. Operations are typically relatively small, and are almost all hands-on, and many oyster farms using methods for cultivation that correspond to their commitment to environmental sustainability.
Aside from Newcastle and Damariscotta, there are many other oyster producing coastal towns, and with a variety of oysters almost too numerous to count, Maine does well in catering to high end restaurants in places like Washington, D.C., and New York, among others. Maine visitors and locals have the advantage of enjoying local oysters not only at restaurants, but also at sidewalk stands, from an oyster boat fresh off the dock, at casual gatherings, and backyard parties.
The names and flavors differ, depending on the region, and like wine sommeliers, connoisseurs will tell you that oysters have the taste of the location of where they come from. Some will tell you that the brinier oysters come from farms that are closer to the river mouth where the water is effectively saltier. Do your own research and create your own taste tour by going to a raw bar, taking an oyster farm tour, walking up to a street cart and find out first hand why Maine’s oysters are legendary.
Different Ways to Experience Maine Oysters
Take a “Farm to Table” Oyster Tour
Several farms offer oyster tasting tours which typically last around 1 to 1.5 hours, and while every oyster farm/farmer is different, generally visitors have a range of experiences including meet the grower, get a tour of the facilities, and perhaps get on the water to visit maturing oysters (and maybe even an incredibly fresh tasting by scooping an oyster right out of the water!). Two companies that offer oyster tours are Nonesuch Oysters
and Damariscotta River Cruises.
Visit Maine’s Oyster Growing Areas (a sampling):
Bagaduce River, Damariscotta River Estuary, Cushing Harbor, Harpswell, Freeport, North Haven Island, Mill Cove & Taunton Bay.
Get to Know the Types of Oysters You Can Buy (a sampling):
Bélon (Flat), Free Range, Virginica, Glidden Point, Dodge Cove, Norumbega, Pemaquid, Wawenauk, Wiley Point, Whaleback Cocktail, Bagaduce, Little Island, Gay Island, Flying Points, North Haven, Winter Point, Taunton Bay…
Buy Maine Oysters (a sampling):
- Glidden Point Oyster Company (Edgecomb)
- Bagaduce Oyster Company (Penobscot)
- J.P.’s Shellfish (Wells)
- Oceanville Seafood (Stonington)
- Harbor Fish Market (Portland)
- North Haven Oyster Company (North Haven)
- Gay Island Oysters (Cushing)
Attend a Maine Oyster Event:
- Annual fall Pemaquid Oyster Festival