Maine Oyster Festival

Oct 14, 2008

From out of nowhere, a new oyster festival leaps into the elite ranks of oyster events. The Maine Oyster Festival, which went down on October 12 at the handsome Union Bluff Meeting House, just feet from the sea in York Beach, was everything an oyster fest should be. What this means is that the raw oysters were as fresh and delicious as possible, the cooked oysters were delicate and artful, and the atmosphere was rollicking.

Old friends like Pemaquids and Winter Points were there, matched in excellence by two oysters I hadn’t tried before: Wiley Points, from Mook Seafarms in the Damariscotta River, the Cote D’or of oyster regions; and North Havens, grown by Adam Campbell in Hittie’s Pond, a shallow mill pond on the island of North Haven. In the cold waters of that protected estuary, the oysters grow slow, and it takes four years for a North Haven to reach market size. By then, it has achieved that firm, salty crispness that I adore in the best Maine oysters.

A nice surprise at the Maine Oyster Festival was the coming-out-party of the first New Hampshire oyster that I know of. The Little Bays were cocktail-sized, nicely crunchy, with just a touch of sweet. Worth looking for!

An array of Maine chefs were on the scene, creating their own takes on the perfect oyster dish. There were some extraordinary fried oysters, delicate and briny, with their oysterness fully intact, and raw oysters with a clever wasabi caviar mignonette. A shucking contest (with cash prizes from JP’s Shellfish), an oyster luge, and great tunes from the Evan Goodrow Band made the night a complete success, and the smaller scale made a nice change from Oyster Riot-scale events. This one must be added to the Oyster Fanatic’s 2009 calendar.

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