First Invitational Oyster Tasting Event
Providence, Rhode Island
April 7, 2008

Everyone who came out to the Providence Westin on the evening of April 7 agreed that the event was a fantastically good time and an instructive opportunity to meet with knowledgeable growers to discuss the finer points and nuances of different oysters.

As this was our first stab at a tasting like this, the judging did not proceed in as orderly a fashion as we had envisioned. Nonetheless, it seemed that everyone was enjoying themselves and the chaos only added to the fun. The wine was good and the oysters were great.

We had a few last minute changes in the list of chefs and oysters, and ended up tasting only 19 varieties. Logistical considerations out of our control led to the elimination of both Cherrystones' (Eastern Shore's White Gold #16) and Carolina Cups from Beaufort, SC, but we were able to bring in a local substitute entry from Rhode Island: Matunuck Oysters from Potter's Pond in Wakefield, RI. (#12).

We also had a few chef judge swaps at the last minute, but the 10 judges who attended did a bang-up job. Keep in mind that oysters tend to be a little thin in the spring (especially those from northern harvest areas) because they don't feed when water temperatures fall below 40 degrees, so many of the bivalves had not eaten since November. Future events would be better held in the fall when oysters are most sweet and plump (they store up glycogen to make it through the long winter).

About a dozen food writers attended, along with 28 grower representatives from as far away as Grand Isle, LA (Wilbert Collins) and Willapa Bay, WA (Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish) who were there to help shuck and to talk about their oysters.

About 40 guests and a dozen assistants rounded out the crowd. A quick look at the scoring data show:

Overall winner: Island Creek (#9) from Duxbury MA with a total score of 130.9 out of a possible 170 points.

Second place: Totten Inlet Virginicas (#2) from the state of Washington with 126.4 pts

Third place: a virtually tie between Ninigret Cups from Charlestown, RI (123.9 pts) and Sweet Petites from Edgartown, MA (123.5 pts)

Runners up: Mystics (120.2 pts), Snow Hills (116.4 pts), Toby Island (110.0 pts), Moonstones (109.3 pts), Cape May Salts (107.7 pts), and Watch Hills (107.3 pts)

Best looking (external shell): Island Creeks followed by Sweet Petites

Best "shuckablity": tie between Mystics and Snow Hills

Best internal appearance: Sweet Petites, followed by Totten Inlets and Cape May Salts (tie score)

Best aroma: Snow Hills

Best flavor: Totten Inlet, followed closely by Ninigret Cups and Island Creeks

Best aftertaste: Ninigrets, followed by Island Creeks and Mystics tied for second

Everyone was pleased to have a chance to talk with the growers, who were more than happy to answer questions about growing oysters. Their passion and enthusiasm for their products was infectious.

We will be sending samples to Brown University for chemical analysis of their salt and mineral contents in an attempt to glean a little information about why one oyster tastes so remarkably different from another. We want to gain a better understanding of the chemistry behind the various tastes - the "meroir" of oysters from different growing areas.

Attendees were also schooled on the sustainability of oyster culture and treated to a slide show of various oyster culture techniques from around the country. Besides tasting great, oysters clean the water, help thwart eutrophication by removing excess nutrients, and provide great habitat for multitudes of little critters that make a home among their shells.

Photos are posted at shutterfly.com.

If you have suggestions for how to improve the event for the next time, please send them to Bob Rheault, (401) 783-3360 or bob@moonstoneoysters.com.

Official Scorekeeper's Booklet (MS Word)

Original Invitation (pdf)