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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Southeast Oyster Symposium at Kimball House

otteroysters

Part trade show, part tasting and part educational event, the Southeast Oyster Symposium on Sunday at Kimball House was another sign that Atlanta is officially crazy for oysters right now.

In fact, if Dr. Bill Walton is right, Atlanta is perfectly positioned to be the geographic and culinary oyster capital of the Southeast.

Walton, who is an assistant professor and marine fisheries extension specialist at Auburn University, has been working with oyster farmers around the Atlantic and Gulf coasts using off-bottom farming practices to produce premium oysters for places like Kimball House and chef Donald Link’s Peche Seafood Grill in New Orleans.

Seven of the farmers were at the symposium, explaining the techniques they use and shucking samples of their products for local media, chefs and oyster aficionados, including food blogger Ted Golden and Kimball House’s resident oyster expert Bryan Rackley, who hosted and helped organize the event.

Rackley, who has developed a passion for oysters in general and a zeal for farmed Gulf oysters in particular, did some preaching and teaching.

“What we have here are people who have dedicated their lives to doing the extra work and putting in the extra time and spending the extra money to bring you something that’s farmed and more sustainable, and to be completely honest with you, it’s a better product,” Rackley told the group. Adding that the farmers were “making Atlanta a better dining community and the South a better place to live.

Walton, a New Jersey native, who independently farmed oysters in Cape Cod before moving south for the job at Auburn, told the story of his first encounters with Gulf oysters as a way of illustrating the problem and the potential in the region.

“The summer I came to Auburn to interview for the job, I went to a raw bar in Mobile and ordered oysters. My wife thought I was crazy, ordering oysters in the summer in Alabama. And I’ll be honest, they were some of the worst oysters I’ve ever had. They were bland, they were small and large, the sizes were all over the place, and they were muddy.

“I was lucky enough to get the job and in January that next year we went to the same raw bar and I ordered oysters. I’m not making this up, they were some of the best oysters I’ve ever had. That is the issue. When you sell oysters that could be perceived as some the worst or some of the best, it doesn’t work.”

Walton’s answer, of course, is farming and branding, which creates a quality, consistent product. It’s also sustainable, creates habitat for fish and crabs, and helps clean up the environment.

The aquaculture farms represented ranged from Dauphin Island in Alabama to the Ace Basin in South Carolina. Happily, the oysters we tasted were high quality with a surprising range of flavors from briny to sweet to earthy and, well, essentially oystery.

A particular favorite, Murder Point oysters from Alabama’s Sandy Bay Oyster Company were super salty but mild. Grown with a long-line system developed in Australia, we were told that Murder Point oysters “are worth killing for!”

While I wouldn’t go that far, I’m pretty certain that eating oysters from the Southeast is going to get a lot more exciting in the near future.

With more farms and more unique oyster appellations available, will we soon be talking about the taste of the sea “terroir” of Southeast oysters like we talk about wine or cheese?

— Bob Townsend, AJC Food and More blog

10 comments Add your comment

GNMinAE

March 13th, 2014
6:47 am

What!!! Local oysters in a restaurant in Decatur? I thought the only places good oysters came from are the North East and North West and have to be flown-in to be fresh? AND… of course, it takes an expert from NJ via Auburn to teach us how to appreciate them! WOW… I am learning a lot today!

Baltisraul....

March 13th, 2014
7:50 am

Florida oysters in the Big Bend are in high demand also GMNinAE.. I imagine the Decatur calls them local since they do not have to be flown in. Not all good food items originate in Yankee land. Those redneck fishermen know a thing or two about seafood also. Once the border wars over water is settled the oyster we be even better and more plentiful.

Ned Ludd

March 13th, 2014
11:01 am

Lookin’ at he beach, sittin’ at the Florabama, oysters to the left of me, cold beer to the right. That is an oyster symposium.

Baltisraul....

March 13th, 2014
12:23 pm

Ned, you Dawg, you! We are headed down to Sapchoppy & St Marks this weekend. Oysters, grouper cheeks & smoked mullet will be on the menu along with crab stuffing, for sure.

Ned Ludd

March 13th, 2014
12:35 pm

Balt—Is it the weekend for the Worm Gruntin’ Festival?—If so don’t miss the Gruntin Ball–
Make sure you try Hamaknockers BBQ–very genuine and tasty.
I have the greatest respect for UGA and all who attend or support, but as a third generation Tech grad I would appreciate an alternate appellation.

CandyKane

March 13th, 2014
1:02 pm

Ned how about this ‘ Go Dawgs beat Tech!

Baltisraul....

March 13th, 2014
1:08 pm

Drive right by Hamaknockers but have never stopped. Will make a point to do so. Thanks! Don’t believe I can cave in so easy on your suggestion about Tech. It just wouldn’t seem right.

Baltisraul....

March 13th, 2014
1:11 pm

The Worm Gruntin Festival is in April down in Sopchoppy.

Ned Ludd

March 13th, 2014
1:20 pm

Too bad Balt—sorry you will miss it. Great group of folks. Recent boys fishing trip we got large containers to go from Hamaknockers. After a full day fishing we came back to the cabin, steamed some corn and potatoes, made some cole slaw, had a wash tub full of long necks on ice, heated the cue, ate under a big oak tree and watched the sun set. Don’t get no better than that.

Baltisraul....

March 13th, 2014
2:05 pm

Ned, next time you are down that way, be sure to stop at Mineral Springs Seafood Market in Panacea. If the fishing is not up to par they have great shrimp for sale. They own their own boat and that is where you pick up that crab stuffing. Which needs to be on everybody’s bucket list! (moma ‘n them make it)