With oysters it wasn't always such an easy thing for me. For a long time I even had a rather divided relationship with the beasts. As a child, I actually only liked them poached in the oven because of their gooey quality, and even later I was rather skeptical about them. But when my neighbor sent a text message with a relevant photo a few hours before we had dinner together last fall, announcing that there would be fresh oysters as a starter, I knew that the time for the confrontation had inevitably come: when the delicatessen Being French, it was impossible for me to admit that I didn't really like oysters. Do what you have to do! I kept my skepticism about oysters to myself, so we toasted each of the dozen and "got used" to the taste and texture. However, I didn't know at the time that these specimens were "little sausages", in contrast to the ones that I would soon see and eventually eat...
Only a few weeks later, Kabel Eins went on tour again. For the program “Adventure Life. Experience anew every day” this time I was able to reveal the secret of the luxury oyster. We are talking about the "Spéciales Gillardeau". They are "produced" by the Gillardeau oyster farm, a traditional family business founded in 1898, which operates several oyster beds throughout Europe, but has its headquarters in Bourcefranc Le Chapus, a small town on the French Atlantic coast in the Charente-Maritime department, right at the foot of the Bridge to the well-known and popular as a holiday destination Ile d'Oléron.
After we had spent the day before for the Abenteuer Leben contribution to Fleur de sel on the Ile de Ré , where I managed to get a radiant sunburn on my face and décolleté during the short shooting break, we set off early in the morning in the direction of Bourcefranc. With pearl earrings appropriate to the occasion and a heavy layer of powder on my face, I entered the factory premises, which is beautifully situated right by the sea. The sea was very high when we arrived and none of us could imagine that the oyster beds were hiding right here under this sparkling surface of the water.
In order to bridge the waiting time until the tide went out, the factory manager Laurent showed us the structure of the plant and explained to us all the individual steps from the delivery of between 10 and 20 tons of oysters a day, to the first cleaning, to the sorting, the spot checks for quality assurance, the Cleaning, caliber sorting, laser engraving and packaging for shipping.
When the water receded a few hours later, it was finally "Put on rubber boots and get out to sea!" Where there was a kind of harbor basin before, a crazy lunar landscape opened up before my eyes, in which the oyster beds with the bags full of oysters looked like overripe fruit or a set table just waiting to be harvested or cleared.
Careful not to fall headlong in the mud or get knee-deep, Laurent and I walked about 10 minutes out to a bank where two of his associates were busy shaking bags of oysters. to twist and turn.
This step must be carried out regularly so that the 100 to 150 oysters in each bag are supplied with enough food (phytoplankton) and also have enough space to grow. Oysters can grow up to 1 or 2 centimeters a week and if they were always squeezed in the same place in the bag, they would - like wild oysters - pass each other and grow crooked and crooked. Of course, that doesn't make an oyster any less good, but it's no longer suitable for a "Spéciale Gillardeau", which also has its price.
The oysters are harvested after a total of 4 years of breeding. They spend the first nine months in so-called parks and only then come into the bags on the various benches, where they stay for a full three years, eating phytoplankton and growing.
After the oysters have been delivered and washed, the dead, i.e. empty, shells are sorted out. Then follows a step that is as exciting as it is important: the oysters are stored in tanks with clean seawater. This is where the oysters start to filter the water (a single oyster can filter around 240 liters of water through it per day!), thereby cleaning themselves, ensuring that the oysters are clean when they are finally put on the market are no longer contain any toxins and pollutants.
They are then sorted in a facility according to caliber size, with caliber 0 being very large and caliber 5 being rather small. Traditionally, size 3 and 4 oysters are popular here, while in Asia the really big ones are very popular.
After a final wash they are laser marked with a G (for Gillardeau). Only those that have the right shape and the right proportion of flesh and skin are sold as "spéciale Gillardeau". "Conventional" oysters (which are then sold as No Names) have a ratio of 10% meat to the total weight, the "spéciales Gillardeau" come to 15 to 20%.
This ratio and the overall top quality of the oysters is largely related to the selection of the oyster beds that are established in waters that have high levels of phytoplankton. Another point is the careful processing: according to Laurent, every single oyster goes through more than 50 steps before it is put on the market!
In the late afternoon we went to the boutique, where I should finally get my dozen oysters with white wine. By now I was really curious and really wanted the experience. In France, but also in Germany and probably in large parts of the western world, oysters are eaten on festive occasions: at Christmas, New Year's Eve, Easter, birthdays... I had chosen a sunny Wednesday.
Julien, the manager of the boutique, which adjoins a picturesque café terrace for immediate consumption of the oysters, first explained to me that the oysters can be eaten either neat, with lemon or a light vinegar with shallots. He didn't want to tell us whether they had an aphrodisiac effect, but he emphatically repeated that they are very good for your health. In fact, oysters have a few compelling qualities: they are low in calories (8 oysters only have around 80 calories), full of vitamins (A, B2, B12, B3, B6, D and E), minerals and trace elements (e.g. iron, copper, manganese). , magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium) have a very high protein content and are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Julien also recommended draining off the first water and then chewing in any case, because: if the oysters are freshly cracked, they are still alive! And if you don't chew them, they live on in your stomach...! Even if I don't believe this story, I still had to swallow a bit at this recommendation: firstly, because my neighbor and I had swallowed the oysters hastily and unchewed during our joint exposure therapy, and secondly, because I'm not that keen on it to eat live animals. But Julien was able to reassure me and explained that oysters have no senses except for simple pressure sensors. They have no brain and only very rudimentary beginnings of a nervous system, so they are not consciously aware of their environment.
I started hesitantly with the first one, but then I ate the whole dozen without even giving the camera crew one! Apparently the friendship ends with oysters... They tasted salty and sweet at the same time, fruity, a bit like the sea and wonderfully fresh and were not at all slimy in consistency, but really nice and fleshy.
My conclusion: Oysters? Gladly and again at any time!
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Of course we don't stock fresh oysters, but smoked oysters in cans from La Quiberonnaise, the traditional brand from Quiberon in Brittany!
Funnily enough, we also stock the same Pineau de Charentes vinegar that Julien served me, and of course a range of wonderful white wines that go really well with oysters and seafood in general.
Classically, Chardonnay, Chablis or white Bordeaux are often recommended. We recommend from our range e.g
Jurançon sec 2014, Clos Lapeyre
Alfaiate branco 2015, Herdade do Portocarro
Les Terrasses blanc 2015, Domaine Pesquié
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