Everything you need to know about oysters including how to choose a great one, how to shuck oysters and what wines to pair with them, just in time for #LanguedocDay on May 26th!
Hog Island Oyster Company produces the best oysters I’ve ever had. No question. They’ve been in Marshall, California for 34 years and have developed a process that produces consistent, flavorful oysters.
Luckily, Hog Island is just a 90 minute drive north of San Francisco, near Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s the perfect place to escape from the city for the day. I couldn’t imagine a more picturesque setting to learn about the Languedoc Wine Region in the south of France, just in time for #LanguedocDay on May 26th!
Read on to learn:
- What Characteristics Make the Perfect Oyster
- What Wines to Pair with Oysters
- How to Shuck an Oyster
- Best Way to Eat an Oyster
- How Oysters are Farmed
5 Characteristics for the Perfect Oyster
Hog Island produces 3.25 million oysters per year, so you could say they are experts in farming oysters! Our host, George, explained what makes the perfect oyster.
- Individual Oysters – Depending on how they are farmed, oysters can grow as single oysters or together to form large oyster clumps. In order to ensure easier slurping, Hog Island only sells single seed oysters. To prevent clumping, oyster hatcheries grind up old oyster shells into ‘oyster flour’. Oysters start as tiny tailless and shell-less creatures. These small chips of oyster shell are perfectly sized so that only one baby oyster can attach to each chip. This prevents clusters of oysters developing together. Hog Island Oyster Company has a 95% success rate of producing single oysters.
- Deep Bowl with Lots of Meat – Hog Island’s Oyster Company is located several miles off the coast. Baby oysters that are purchased from hatcheries are put into large cylinders – about 5,000 oysters per cylinder. These cylinders rock back and forth with the waves and stress the oysters by tumbling them around. This signals the oysters to grow a rounder shell to protect themselves, producing a deeper bowl.
- Hard, not Crumbly Shells – Crumbly shells are bad news – they don’t transport well and when you shuck them they can crack and chip leaving oyster shell in your oyster meat. The same process of agitating the oysters that causes a deep bowl to form also leads to a stronger shell.
- Easy to Ship – If you’re enjoying Hog Island Oysters at Bay Area restaurants, or buying them to take home, it’s important that they taste great even after they leave the oyster farm. After 6-8 weeks in cylinders, the oysters are transferred to racks set on PVC posts. They are placed so part of the day they are out of the water during low tide. This conditions the oysters to be out of the water for several hours without them opening their shells to ‘check’ for water. They are trained that the water will always come back so the interior stays wet while they patiently wait.
- Best Tasting Oysters – The delicious taste of an oyster comes from glycogen stored in the large muscle that is used to open and close the shell. The process of exposing the oysters to air during low tide also forces the oyster to use its muscle daily. This ‘exercise’ leads to a strong muscle and a great tasting oyster.
What Wines to Serve with Raw Oysters
Hog Island Oyster Company is the idyllic setting for eating raw oysters. It doesn’t get better than a sunny, breezy day sitting ocean side shucking your own oysters! Look for a refreshing, bright, easy-to-drink wine. A Picpoul de Pinet wine from the Languedoc region in southern France is perfect for pairing with oysters. Picpoul loosely translates to “lip stinger” as it’s high in acidity with beautiful minerality. The Piquepoul grape vines for this wine are grown just steps away from oyster beds in France, making them perfect partners.
2015 Petit Roubié AOP Picpoul de Pinet: The slight effervescence of this wine is classic for a Picpoul. It’s clean and crisp and doesn’t overpower the oysters. Also enjoy it with crudo, raw seafood, and spicy Asian dishes. Suggested Retail Price: $15
Food Pairing Suggestions for Languedoc Wines
I had so much fun learning about the Languedoc wine region. The region celebrates #LanguedocDay on May 26th, so there’s no better time to grab a glass and enjoy a hidden gem from Languedoc. With the amount of diversity of wines in the region, there’s something for everyone! Read on for my favorites for everything from rosé to sparkling wine. As a bonus, they are all a great value with suggested retail prices of $15 or under.
J. Laurens Brut AOP Crémant de Limoux: Crémant de Limoux wines are the perfect alternative to Champagne, as it is the same production method and similar grape varieties – just much more approachable in price. The Limoux appellation has been producing sparkling wines in the traditional method since 1531! Their expertise definitely shows. This sparkling wine has floral notes and a bit of citrus that pair well with lightly seared tuna or other rich fish or a white meat dish like lemon chicken. Suggested Retail Price: $14
Antech Brut Nature AOP Blanquette de Limoux: Like the Crémant de Limoux, this wine is also made in the traditional method but from the local Mauzac grape. If you love Prosecco, give this a try. It’s great by itself, and pairs well with pork and grilled or cooked oysters. Suggested Retail Price: $14
2016 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rosé IGP Hérault: The largest wine region in France, Langeudoc has the capacity to produce more rosé wine even than Provence. The Moulin is the best of everything you want in a rosé – crisp, refreshing, light and fruity. It’s a blend of 50% Syrah grapes and 50% Carignan. Enjoy it with grilled oysters, all of your favorite barbecue dishes, fruit, and of course dessert. Suggested Retail Price: $10
2014 Château de la Negly ‘La Côte’ AOP La Clape: From one of the new Crus du Languedoc areas, this is a gorgeous and well-balanced red wine that is perfect for summer! It is low in tannins, so it pairs great with grilled oysters, white meats and salmon. Suggested Retail Price: $13
How to Shuck Oysters
Here are the steps:
- Clean the oyster well with cold water to remove any dirt and debris. Keep them on ice while you shuck them. Shuck outside or cover your work area with a thick, absorbent towel to catch any liquid that drains from the oysters when you open them.
- Hold the oyster in a gloved hand with the ‘belly’, or flatter side, side up. Hold the pointy end away from you. Insert the shucking knife at a 45° angle at the ‘hinge’ of the oyster, where the two sides meet.
- Once the tip of the knife is in the groove, wiggle to advance the knife until the shell starts to open. Turn your wrist 90° each way to pry the shell open. Once you’ve done this enough you’ll feel a ‘pop’ and the oyster shell will give way. Clean any debris off the knife and cut the muscle by sweeping the knife underneath and parallel to the top shell. You’ll have to do this by feel as the muscle will still be intact enough to keep you from getting a good view. Once cut, remove and discard the top shell. Pick any chipped shell pieces out of the oyster.
- Free the oyster from the bottom shell. Sweep the knife under the oyster meat to release the second muscle. Push the oyster around to make sure the muscle is completely cut.
Here’s a great video (technique starts at 2:20):
How to Eat an Oyster
After you’ve shucked your oyster as above, it’s time to enjoy it! Hold the oyster with your thumb and middle finger. Tilt the oyster close to your mouth and use your index finger to ‘sweep’ the oyster into your mouth.
Tips for Visiting Hog Island Oyster Company
- Reserve a table in advance – The best way to experience Hog Island is by reserving one of their shuck-your-own picnic tables. Hog Island provides the table and a grill and you can buy oysters. As you can imagine, they book up fast, so make sure you reserve a table well in advance. It’s only $5/person to reserve a table for three hours.
- Ask for a complimentary shucking lesson – The friendly staff at Hog Island will be happy to show you how to shuck an oyster. It’s fun and pretty easy once you get the hang of it. See my tips for shucking oysters below.
- Bring Your Own Beverages, etc. – Make a picnic out of your visit by bringing your own wine or beer and snacks. You can also buy charcuterie, beverages and cheese from the Oyster Bar.
- Don’t forget Charcoal – It’s really a treat to enjoy Hog Island Oysters on the grill. I highly recommend taking advantage of the grill as a part of your picnic table reservation!
Hog Island Oyster Company
20215 Shoreline Highway
Marshall, CA 94940