Fresh oysters from France will be available soon at Topaz Restaurant again! Stay tuned by “liking” the Topaz Facebook page!
Learn more about oysters from France
Fresh oysters come in many varieties and sizes – Normandy, Brittany, Marennes-Oléron, Arcachon… – a panorama of French oysters, all with their own secret flavour. Before you choose your oysters, there are a few things you need to know…
First, oysters may be flat or cupped. The choice is often limited, since around 98% of French oysters are cupped. Flat ones, which also more round in shape, are less common and often more expensive.
Next, oysters carry a “number” that indicates the shell size: from 0 to 5 for cupped oysters and from 000 to 6 for flat ones. But be careful, number 000 oysters are the biggest, number 6 the smallest!
For cupped oysters, whatever the shell size, the designation “fine” or “special” indicates the amount of meat. The special oysters are the meatiest ones.
Finally, you will need to choose between different production zones, each of which boasts is own quality of flavour! A quick oyster tour of France would take in Normandy on the north coast, then the western regions of Aquitaine, Charente Maritime, Vendée and Brittany, all of which produce cupped oyster, and even the Mediterranean in Languedoc (Etang de Thau seawater lagoon) and the island of Corsica (Urbino and Diana lagoons). Flat oysters are mainly farmed in Brittany, although there are often some in the Mediterranean too.
Let’s take a closer look at France’s different oyster regions:
Always highly iodised and rather fleshy, Normandy oysters are a constant delight to their devotees. The most famous varieties include special oysters of Isigny, tasty and pulpy, and those of Saint-Vaast, which are known for their nutty flavour. So-called “deep sea” oysters are farmed on the west coast of the Cotentin Peninsular, where these molluscs enjoy very pure seawater and develop their refined, iodised flavour.
North and South Brittany
Cancale, Saint-Brieuc, Morlaix and the Bay of Brest all have a well-deserved reputation for cupped and flat oysters. Most of France’s flat oysters are farmed on the coasts of Brittany.
The Cancale oyster, farmed in the shadow of Mont Saint-Michel, experiences some of the strongest tides in the world. Its flesh is highly oxygenated, salty and firm yet soft.
The Paimpol deep-sea oyster, raised in farms far out in the bay, is deliciously “fat”.
Another Brittany celebrity is the Aven-Belon oyster, or more simply “the Belon”, whose appellation designates three Brittany estuaries on the south coast of Finistere. Although not a major production zone, it is an exceptional site for oyster maturation, since the coastal seawater mixes with fresh water from rivers and springs.
The oysters farmed around Quiberon and in the Gulf of Morbihan in southern Brittany thrive in tidal streams rich in plankton and algae, which give them their distinctive balanced, yet invigorating flavour.
Ile de Re, Noirmoutier and the Centre-West Coast
Oysters farmed off the Vendée coast are highly reputed. Oysters from the Baie de Bourgneuf or carrying the Vendée-Atlantique appellation come from the Ile de Ré, the Baie de Bourgneuf and from Pornic to Beauvoir-sur-Mer, closed on the seaward side by the Noirmoutier Peninsular.
Extending from the Charente River to the Gironde Estuary, the Marennes-Oléron basin is a veritable shellfish garden open to the ocean. It is the world’s most extensive oyster farming area and France’s leading production centre. Its proud advertising slogan is “Matured in Marennes-Oléron and nowhere else”.
The last production phase – maturing in beds – is the one that makes the international reputation of French oysters. Oysters matured in this manner earn special appellations: “fines de claire” (minimum index fixed at 7 for Marennes-Oléron oysters) and “speciales de claire”. The maturing process consists of immersing the oysters in a shallow seawater basin, allowing time to do its job. The Marennes-Oléron marsh oyster beds, largely formed by ancient salt marshes, contain a balance of seawater and fresh water, giving the “fines de claire” their special balanced aroma.
The bottom of the beds sometimes becomes covered with bluish-green algae, the navicule, which enters the oysters and gives them a wonderful colour. The ” Vertes de claire” , fine and iodised, are widely appreciated.
Also very popular is the famous Gillardeau Marennes-Oléron oyster, which is remarkable for its plump flesh, which is voluptuous, firm and almost crunchy, with a strong aftertaste.
The Arcachon Basin produced wild oysters in ancient times. Today it has become an important breeding centre, supplying spats (oyster larvae) to most of France’s oyster-farming basins.
The flavours of oysters found around Arcachon are highly characteristic yet varied, ranging from the delicate aroma of fresh vegetables and citrus fruit of Cap-Ferret oysters, to the rather sweet milkiness of those from the Arguin sandbank, to the vegetal/mineral tang of those from the Ile aux Oiseaux. These Arcachon varieties owe their reputation to the quality of the plankton they consume during their fattening phase and to their greenish colour acquired in maturing beds, as in Marennes-Oléron.
* Article from France.fr