Maine's cold, clean water makes it ideal for seafood of all kind: lobster, to be sure, but also oysters, those sweet and briny bivalves that we often associate with cooler climes. But, in Maine, you can (and should!) eat oysters all year round.
We caught up with oyster farmers Valy Steverlynck and Eric Horne to find out the best way to shuck your oysters — and how to eat them (besides slurped straight from the shell).
Meet the Oyster Farmers: Valy Steverlynck & Eric Horne
The husband-and-wife team farm oysters in the mouth of the Cousins River, near South Freeport, Maine. (A far cry from the village of Freeport, bustling with tourists shopping at outlet malls and L.L. Bean, South Freeport is quieter, home mostly to residents and marinas.)
Eric is originally from Freeport, and oyster aquaculture runs in his family — his father dabbles in it recreationally, while his brother works for Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, MA. Valy is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the two met in college at Brown University.
After living and working in Boston for a few years, they wanted to start a family and began to look for what Eric called "a saner life." Realizing they loved the time they spent in Maine visiting Eric's family, they decided to move to Freeport and begin an oyster business. Oyster aquaculture checked all the boxes: having a business of their own, working together, and being outside in Maine.
It's a good life, if one that's not all pleasure cruises in idyllic conditions. Think: high winds, choppy waves, and the anxiety of losing gear to storms. But Valy says she wouldn't have it any other way: "I love the days even when it's snowing or raining. There's something about it that's really appealing to me, to sit by the fire and sip hot tea after a day out in the cold."
The Maine Difference: It's All About the Water
Since the two began Flying Point Oysters in 2000, Valy and Eric have watched the demand for Maine oysters grow. Eric estimates he used to sell two to three percent of their oysters to Portland restaurants, with the rest going out of state. Now, he says, it's closer to 20 percent. Oysters from Maine, he says, are looked on favorably by out-of-staters: "The great advantage Maine has is clean water overall. All the places we've applied to harvest are in pristine water."
And it's the water that gives Flying Point oysters their distinct flavor. Like all oysters, they take on the characteristics of the water in which they're grown. For those raised in the Cousins River site, that means oysters imbued with the brininess of ocean water.
More Oyster Farmers, More Oysters
In his 17 years in the industry, Eric says he's seen the growing demand for Maine oysters coincide with a rising number of oyster producers: "People would have eaten oysters if they were available, but since they weren't, restaurant folks weren't knocking down the door looking for them." As the demand for local food increased, so did the number of oyster farmers, creating a steadier supply for restaurant customers.
Valy and Eric sell their oysters wholesale to seafood distributors, meaning they're free to focus on the daily work of growing and harvesting oysters. "Everyone talks about wanting to cut out the middleman, but we like the middleman," laughs Eric. Valy adds, "They do the things we don't want to do: deliver, be on the phone, invoices, collections ... we can focus on growing oysters."
Where to Find Flying Point Oysters
Valy and Eric partner with two of the best seafood markets in Portland: Harbor Fish Market and Browne Trading Company. Their oysters are sold retail at these markets, as well as distributed to restaurants in Maine and out of state. In Portland, you can find these briny treasures served on the half shell at Eventide Oyster Co. and Scales.
Valy and Eric's Tips for Enjoying Oysters at Home
Has all this talk of oysters made you hungry? We asked Valy and Eric for their best tips for storing, shucking, and eating oysters.
How to Store Oysters
Oysters should be stored refrigerated as soon as they are harvested and kept at 42°F to 45°F until ready to be consumed.
Myth Busting: What Time of Year Is It Safe to Eat Oysters
How to Shuck Oysters
- Hold the oyster, cupped-shell down, in a gloved hand.
- With your other hand, pry open at the hinge with an oyster knife by slowly applying pressure and twisting until the oyster "pops."
- Run the oyster knife flush with the inside of the flat shell to cut the abductor muscle, remove flat shell, and let meat slide into your mouth. Enjoy.
How to Eat Oysters
The best way to eat oysters may be raw, on the half-shell, sometimes with a drop of lemon or lime, but if you're easing into oysters, here are a couple other ways to eat them:
- Grilled, in the shell; once the heat makes the oysters pop open, add minced garlic or shallots.
- Broiled with a garnish of sautéed onions, bacon or spinach, cream, and a blend of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.
Do you love oysters? What's your favorite way to eat them?