Especially the French oysters, called huîtres, enjoy world fame and are considered the most expensive mussels, as an integral part of any gourmet menu in the world. Wherever a lavish party is celebrated, champagne and the coveted sea creatures are sipped, preferably fresh and natural out of the shell, served on crushed ice. In France, oyster farming began in 1858 and has since been considered one of the true French delicacies, even though the price is for French people. A dozen oysters cost between €4 and €8, depending on origin and size. Of the estimated 150,000 tonnes of oysters harvested each year by the Ostréiculteurs, over 90% end up on French plates. Oysters have existed for 250 million years and legends surround the mussels, which are unspectacular on the outside and delicious on the inside. In Greek mythology, the goddess of love Aphrodite is said to have sprung from an oyster, and in ancient times the oyster was said to have an aphrodisiac effect. This assumption is based on the high content of zinc and protein, which support the build-up of the sex hormone testosterone in the male body. However, there is no scientific evidence for this.

It is assumed that the first specimens were eaten by humans as early as 125,000 years ago, before the Romans first began to breed the shellfish in sheltered sea bays around 2000 years ago. There are around 100 different varieties that can be found on the rocks of shallow waters around the world. Oysters can be roughly divided into 2 types, the pearl oysters and the culinary oysters, which produce no or only small pearls, but are suitable for consumption. They require fresh and unpolluted salt water, which is why breeders take great care to keep the seas clean. Oysters themselves also play a special ecological role, as they can filter up to 200 liters of seawater a day to absorb nutrients and plankton.

In France, there are mainly 2 varieties, the les plates and the les creuses. The les plates (the flat ones), also known as the European oyster, have a mild flavor but have become very rare, and the les creuses (the flat ones), so-called Pacific oysters, which have the largest share worldwide and which are mainly found on the markets and in restaurants. The best-known, domed oyster varieties of France are: Normal creuses pleine mer, the saltiest ones. Fines de claires have a milder taste and are less fleshy, with a balanced nutty-fresh aroma. Spéciales de claires are even more fleshy and have the fullest aroma. They stay longer in the claire and get additional food. Since oysters cannot move themselves, they depend on food coming to them. They therefore prefer to live in the intertidal zone, such as in estuaries, where the constant movement of the water always brings fresh plankton, which they filter out of the water. They love warm water temperatures of 22 degrees and multiply in July. The fry then swim into the open sea or find hold of devices built by oyster farmers. In the spring, the colonies move to the oyster parks, where they spend between one and three years to grow.

In addition to the species, the different seabeds and the finishing are also decisive for the taste. Shortly before they are actually ready for the market, some oysters undergo further processing in the so-called claires, the natural tanks and canal systems in which the oysters are watered, fed and refined again towards the end. The longer the oysters are allowed to stay in these tanks, the better their taste. Fines de Claires stay for at least a month and have a pure, salty aroma with a subtle touch of seaweed. Spéciales de Claires mature for at least two to three months and have a clear taste. Pousses en Claires can remain in the tanks for up to eight months and have an exceptionally pure taste.

Read the full article in Issue 17.

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