Katharine Shilcutt reported on renewed efforts to assign appellations to Gulf oysters, and some commenters didn't like the idea so much. "Seriously," P. T. Barnum wrote. "Were these same oysters selling for inflated prices before their fancy name? Nope. Sucker." But PJ Stoops defended the practice:
I think the point is being missed here. The overwhelming majority of Gulf oysters will always be sold and consumed cheaply- that is THE traditional oyster eating culture here, and I for one would never eat another Gulf oyster if all that was available were more expensive named oysters. I love eating out of straight Gulf sacks and no one, MOST of all the oystermen themselves, want to change the larger market.
As for appellations, these are not just the same oysters re-packaged and sold higher to rip consumers off. It is a fact (and a fact that may be quantitatively measured- which I would be happy to personally demonstrate to skeptics) that topography and water flow in certain areas produces a different tasting oyster- sometimes radically different. Named oysters will only ever be a rather small percentage of the total oyster harvest- and only a rather small percentage of restaurants and consumers will care about provenance. The difference in taste is there, as any of the guests at the oyster tasting in Galveston this weekend could attest. Indeed, the oystermen (even those dubious of the whole affair) themselves were impressed with the differences.
And yes, reefs from the same bay can certainly produce different tasting oysters...again a fact that I would be happy to demonstrate to any and all. It all has to do with how oysters feed.
Finally, if you don't want to pay the higher price necessary to ensure provenance, then never fear- there will always be the good old plain Gulf oysters. Frankly, that's what I'll usually be eating myself...but that doesn't mean that a difference doesn't exist, and that legitimate markets can't be created for identifiable home-grown products.
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Thanks for a thoughtful contribution to the discussion, PJ Stoops. And happy Friday, all!