Such is the power of oysters, as described by Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast. Few would disagree with him, and some would even say he is understating their power to satisfy, but to those that aren’t yet familiar with them, they may still seem a little intimidating and it’s true that they’re definitely something of an acquired taste.
For starters, they’re alive. Oysters must be alive when they’re eaten or cooked, or they’re unsafe. Then, to the uninitiated, the lustrous folds of pearly or pale brown flesh can appear a little unappetising. The heavy scent of the sea might seem a strange way to inspire one’s taste buds, and finally there are the questions of how to eat them and with what. But, raw oysters have complex flavours that vary greatly among varieties and regions. Some are salty, others buttery, some have a metallic taste, while some even leave fruits flavours behind them.
At Topaz, we have selected some of the finest oysters that can be found anywhere in the world, other than perhaps those that are produced in such small quantities, they can hardly be had. This takes care of two of the most important issues around oysters: which ones to choose, and opening them without losing a thumb or any of the delicious liquid inside.
The most famous name in the oyster world, the Gillardeau family have been cultivating oysters for more than 100 years. Indeed, these plump, sugar and salt sea fruits have become so popular that the family has had to start laser-marking their oysters in an effort to prevent counterfeiting.
It takes four years to raise an oyster, and Gillardeau oysters start off either on the coast of Normandy or of County Cork in Ireland, before they are transferred to Marennes-Oléron for their last two years, where they are turned and treated so the meaty flesh inside becomes as fat and sweet as possible.
“It was a bold man that first ate an oyster,” the British novelist Jonathan Swift is thought to have said. Gillardeau, sweeter, meatier and richer than many others, are a perfect choice for anyone’s first oyster.
But for those who prefer saltier flavours, the Fine de Claire oysters are the ones to choose. Also raised in Marennes-Oléron, these are finished off for several weeks in shallow clay ponds, where they acquire a rich, juicy balanced flavour.
Oysters are also graded according to size, hence the No. 1 and No. 2 designations. The lower the number, the larger the oyster inside. The smallest, No. 5, weighs about 30g, where No. 2, like our Fine de Clairs, can weigh up to four times as much, at between 86 and 110g. The largest, though, are No. 1s, which can weigh in as much as 150g.