1.0 Oyster Experience
Part 1. The Life of an Oyster
It’s safe to say that we’re incredibly spoilt living in Sydney: surrounded by restaurants with harbour views, underground whisky bars and a new brunch spot opening in Surry Hills every other weekend – we’re living a foodies dream, with reality TV and the Food Network encouraging us to invest in a Kitchen Aid and enter next seasons MKR.
But from time to time there’s nothing better for the soul than escaping the bright lights of the city – removing yourself from a routine of the morning commute, almond flat whites and the countdown to Happy Hour. Just a couple of hours south of Sydney lies the beautiful South Coast of NSW, the perfect destination to unwind and enjoy the finer things in life.
In late October 2017, a group of Sydney-siders ventured down to the humble town of Batemans Bay – 2 of the guests being the winners of our Oyster Festival competition, Claire and Kelly who invited their friends along for the fun. Accompanied by chef Sean Connolly, his wife Jo and seafood experts Frank Theodore and Jason Craus from De Costi Seafoods – a fantastic two days were in store.
Flying into Moruya airport, we began our tour at Bay Rock Oyster Farm on the Clyde River in Batemans Bay – hosted by oyster farmer Audrey Thors. A force to be reckoned with, Audrey is one of the few female farmers in the industry having bought the lease 24 years ago as a hobby for her retirement. Hardworking, kind and enthusiastic – she works 362 days of the year, up at 4am and on the river by 6am tending to the 3 million oysters she’s currently growing on her farm.
Audrey walks us through the life cycle of a rock oyster which are the main variety of oyster you’ll find in this part of NSW, rich in mineral flavours with a salty bite – these particular Clyde River oysters are incredibly popular, thanks to the clean river water flowing through the estuary meeting the saline rich water from Batemans Bay.
An oyster starts it’s life as we all do… as a fertilised egg – oysters having the ability to produce both eggs and sperm which are released in the millions when water temperatures rise in spring/summer. These form into “spat” or baby oysters, which look like tiny flecks of shell. They flow along the water current and get caught on slats, cylindrical baskets or hard surfaces thinking they’re on an oyster reef. The caught spat are brought out of the water and processed, being repacked into trays and baskets to be placed back in the water to begin their growing process.
Audrey works on a strict schedule, rotating her oysters around different parts of the river throughout their lifetime. They’re brought out of the water every 3 months, sorted by size and put through a “rumbler” which knocks off the excess frill on the bottom shell and encourages the oyster to develop a more cup-shaped shell making the meat inside plumper. Some oysters are “greedy buggars” and feed really well, developing much faster – others are slower and can take years to reach eating size. Rock oysters in general are quite lazy Audrey explains – “you regularly have to move them and flip their baskets over to wake them up and remind them to feed!” No easy task when you have 3 million of them to look after…
Oysters are filter feeders, drawing water over their gills with sensory organelles – pumping an impressive 43L of water a day through their tiny bodies, consuming plankton and particles caught in their shell. They take on the nutrients and flavour profiles of the body of water they’re grown in, creating awareness to the importance of our natural waterways and marine environment – something that is very important to Audrey and any seafood farmer in the country.
At the 2-4 year old stage, a rock oyster is ready for harvesting and grading in preparation for its final journey to the table. Here at The Morrison we sell hundreds of thousands of oysters every year, and although they only take a moment to shuck and slurp, they truly are an affordable luxury that should always be celebrated!
Enjoy part 2 of our South Coast Getaway…
Riverside Dining with Sean Connolly