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All the way from the Emerald Isle!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Gourmet Lovers Guide to Galway and the surround!

The World is your Oyster
And Galway, is its home.

Nestled on the mouth of the Claren River, protected in the bay from the full force of Atlantic storms, Clarinbridge, County Galway is home to seven hundred acres of oyster beds. Ideal conditions mixing river water into the surrounding shallow seas, provides ideal breeding grounds vital for healthy oyster development.

Oyster culture in Ireland can be dated back to as early as the 13th Century which is how long these delicacies have been devoured. The Galway flat Oysters lost popularity in the early seventies when the demand for Giggas took over (a deep cupped oyster, preferred by our European counterparts). Backed by the government to ensure employment in remote coastal communities, Oyster farming gained huge momentum in the nineteen nineties and sold over 6,000 tonnes last year alone.

A connoisseur for many years, I always come back to the old native Galway Oyster for many reasons, the most important one being, that it is growing right here in my own back yard. Oyster culture is one of the most environmentally friendly types of farming I have encountered. Hungering for neither feed nor medication and touting a low (and sometimes negative) carbon footprint, these natural element feeders get everything they need from the unpolluted Irish waters.

The farmer’s task is to manage the density of the stock (by periodically sorting and grading) and help influence the shell shape. These flashy fish can filter over eleven litres of water per hour. They lounge about for eighteen months to three years on a steady diet of phytoplankton and salty water. Once cracked open and the fleshy meat is bared, it is the essence of the ocean that you taste.

With over 7,500 km of coast line rich in aquatic life, Galway holds court for producing the highest quality oysters in Ireland and in Western Europe. In 2000, Bord Iascaigh Mhara began to focus on producing the highest quality oyster in Europe and spent less energy focusing on quantities sold. Strong links were forged with France, who named us as a privileged partner in their countries Oyster production. The French with their wicked taste for finer foods send us their seedlings and here, in these fertile Irish Sea beds, we raise their offspring and sell them back to them two and a half years later. Plump and perfect!

A few years ago, whilst following my nose one day, I ended up in Cave. A little village near Clarinbridge and Maree, Oranmore. Whilst rock pooling with some friends we fell over a mammoth oyster and trust me when I tell you, I had never seen one that big!

I hunted down one of the locals named Billy Moran, and he told me that these Giants of the Sea are actually from Portugal. About 15 years ago, there was an arrangement between Galway and Portugal where we took the baby oysters from them and allowed them to grow in Irish waters for 18 months. Then, we sold them back to Portugal as Portuguese Oysters. (Sounds familiar doesn't it).

Anyway, things did not work out with Portugal, and the arrangement fell through about 6 years ago. Now, we are still left with some of these giants along our shores. Billy thinks that the ones we harvested are about three  or four years old. Imagine finding a ten year old??

The beauty of this location all views and vistas aside, is that here in County Galway, with wellies on and a bag slung over your shoulder, you can puddle your way on to the beach during low tide and have your pick of oysters, for free. Now that is something you do not see every day!

Another one of my very favourite places.
It is local, It is Galway, It is home!

That is all the WiseWords I have for today,



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