Oysters. Ersters. Oischchures. les Huitres. Whatever you call 'em, I love 'em. I recently had the opportunity to try a new one. And then, to share it with someone special, actually two special someones, and I did feel blessed by the universe. There's just something in my bones, when I enjoy oysters it's deeper and more moving than my normal, out-sized enjoyment of food. Reading Roy Blount, Jr.'s essay on oysters (at the ever-annoying we-don't-pay-writers - okay, we pay some, but generally no, HuffPo) shows once again how oysters are inextricably linked with something deep in our core.
Unlike many, I cannot recall my first oyster. I do recall the first time I had Kumamotos, the first time I shared oysters with my "little sister" at one of Paris' oldest oyster bars, and now, my first Belon.
We'll Always have Paris
On the occasion of her 18th birthday I decided to take my "little sister" to Paris. It was my first visit and I believe hers, although she had lived with a French family in or near Alsace for a school term. I explained that my belief was that Paris was a city that we could explore with only the faint outline of a plan. "Let's wander." I said. "Allons-y!" said she as ever, game for an adventure. And so we wandered. I tried on some impossibly chic suede boots with precisely the right heel and decided they were "trop cher." (too expensive) She later surprised me, somehow, with those very boots for my birthday. We sat amongst the dogs and doyennes in cafes, nibbling our pain au chocolate but declining to smoke. We stumbled on the January 1st sales - who knew? - and vintage post card stores - and fun, beautiful boys dans le Marais.
One of the highlights of trip, maybe only second to being mistaken for localsand asked for directions on the Metro (!) was our stumbling upon an oyster bar in the 8th Arrondissement. Turned out to be the oldest or one of the oldest oyster bars in Paris. We were thrilled. Amongst the hanging nautical kitsch, I imparted what I knew about wines to pair avec des huitres: a crisp Chablis, or a Sancerre; and how to eat them, light spritz of fresh squeezed lemon, maybe, maybe mignonette and that's it.
Island Creek and My First Belon
When Island Creek Oyster Bar opened, it seemed as if we'd waited forever. Finally the day came. We joined the throng (it seemed as if every soul in Boston had to be there opening weekend!) and I was rewarded with the taste of my first Belon.
Belon are quite rare. (Less than 1% of oyster production!) In the 1950s some folks brought the Belons from their native France to Maine to try to cultivate them here. While the cultivation of them in Maine is nearly gone entirely, some wild Maine Belon are found.
Whereas the majority of oysters on the East Coast are Crassotrea Virginica, the Belon belong to the Ostrea Edulis. Rowan Jacobsen described them as "an anchovy dipped in zinc." I think that's a little over the top, but it is a distinctly strong and coppery flavor that the Belon bring to the platter. The oysters, also known as European Flats are indeed a flatter shelled oyster and they hold less liquid because the cup is so shallow.
If you like strong flavors, enjoy wines with a mineral flavor profile, you may well enjoy Belons. With the worldwide Belon population under siege from a unique parasite with the ironic name of Bonamia (sounds like bon amie to me) if you find them on the menu, you should definitely give them a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. At the very least you can check them off your tasting list and impress fellow Oyster Century Club© members with your find.