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The Damariscotta Oyster Celebration: 2000 Years in the Making

The Damariscotta Oyster Celebration: 2000 Years in the Making

I can't help but feel a bit of nostalgia as I introduce the next feature. My second farm  - ever (!) - on Lady Oyster was Otter Cove, located on the Damariscotta River. A year ago, I had convinced Pete Smith to spend an hour with me, which completely changed the direction of this blog. As I scribbled barely legible notes and tried to ask remotely relevant questions, Pete's conversation came naturally, and painted a massive landscape of oyster history on of the river. That story was the pivotal point where I said to myself, well, s**t. This blog needs to be all about the growers. They are the keepers of the best oyster stories. No one needs to hear about me eating sticky Belons in Atlanta. And so, farm features from then on became my favorite thing.  Pete, thanks for the continued inspiration (and see you soon).

We are about to shellebrate.

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Thanks to a few brilliant minds, Rory Strunk, founder of O'Maine Studios, and Ryan McPherson of Glidden Point Oysters as well as Bill Mook of Mook Sea Farm, Maine's about to throw down a massive oyster tribute. It's time for everyone to show up in the name of oyster love.

In this article, I have two exciting things to share. Firstly, Ryan has given me a short story on Glidden Point Oysters, his pride and joy, so before you even get to Damariscotta, you know a thing or two about one of the featured celebrities on the half shell.

Secondly, you're going to hear all about the Damariscotta Oyster Celebration, the most exciting oyster thrill ride, comprised of renowned chefs, oyster farmers, shuckers and culinary enthusiasts - all showcasing Maine's incredible resources.

On the Damariscotta River. Source: O'Maine

On the Damariscotta River. Source: O'Maine

The Hand Harvested Love Behind Glidden Point Oysters

Glidden Point Oyster Seed. Source: O'Maine

Glidden Point Oyster Seed. Source: O'Maine

Glidden Point Oysters are some pretty coveted bivalves on a New England oyster menu. Ryan, where did it all begin?

Ryan: Glidden Point Oyster Farm was started by Kevin and Barb Scully in 1987.  I bought the business from Barb in the beginning on 2016.  Jonathan had been working for Barb so he stayed onboard.  I had been involved in the fisheries in Massachusetts and grown fond of oyster aquaculture.  When I started looking for opportunities to start my own farm I had met Barb and she was looking to get out of the business, so it was a perfect match!  I now call Maine home! 

What is so special about the Damariscotta River? 

Ryan: The Damariscotta is the perfect place to grow oysters. Period!  Its mix of warm nutrient water with cold deep water make the perfect combination.  Our farm is made up of 3 leases on the river.  Our oysters move through each lease during the growing process. The nursery is in the warmest section of the river were the water from the great salt bay flows when the tide is going out. Our grow out site west of Prentis Island is the coldest, deepest water on the river. That is were we leave the oysters for 2 years to grow. Once we harvest the oysters we bring them to our third lease which it even cooler and we hand them in rafts to purge out the silt. Then we ship them!   

What do you feel is unique about your process?

Ryan: Where do we begin...The farm process itself has been pretty much unchanged for 30 years. We do as much as we can by hand so we can get an eye and feel on the product.  We harvest mostly by scuba divers so we don't impact the bottom of the river, and in turn the quality will remain the same for years to come as it has for the past 30.  

Give us the best part, and the "harder" part of oyster farming.

Ryan: There is nothing quite like working on the water.  The most challenging part is working with mother nature and the risks that come with farming.  

In your words, what is the flavor profile of a Glidden Point Oyster?

Ryan: Expect a heavy dense shell and a clean, full plump meat, that will be briny yet sweet!  

What is getting you most excited about the Damariscotta Oyster Celebration?

Ryan: I'm excited to get everyone together to simply celebrate the oysters we grow! We don't get the chance to stop and appreciate really how great it is!  The whole celebration was the brain child of Rory Strunk and myself and then quickly Bill Mook became involved.  We'll be/our oysters will be involved through out the weekend.  The Farm will be open and we'll be giving tours throughout the weekend.  Come on by!  637 River Road . Edgecomb ME!  

The Damariscotta Oyster Festival: 2000 Years in the Making

Rory, how did the DOC concept start? What do you feel is so great about the oyster community in Maine? 

Rory: Our state and the Damariscotta River region specifically provide amazing aquaculture and tourism resources.  Our mentor model for this event is Napa Valley and how the wine growers created a dominate wine brand and tourism culture. The Napa region is 28 miles long and draws 4.5 million visitors.  The Damariscotta region is 25 miles long and makes up one of the world’s most incredible aquaculture eco-systems.  The Damariscotta Oyster Celebration was created to showcase the region's people, products and landscape to elevate the branding and sales demand to two of Maine’s leading economic industries: tourism and food production.

I love the lineup of events taking place that week. What are some features of the events that have you super excited?

Rory: We want to create a special way to define the Damariscotta Oyster Celebration that would be meaningful to chefs and the oyster industry.  The International Oyster Chef of the Year is a first of a kind oyster chef competition that is intended to showcase chef innovators and their oyster dishes.  The other event that I’m really excited about is our Tour de Source which is river boat tour providing our visiting guests a chance to experience all dimensions of the Damariscotta aquaculture from the science management, harvesting techniques to innovations new products.

Editor's note: Check out the entire lineup!

Aboard the River Cruise. Source: O'Maine

Aboard the River Cruise. Source: O'Maine

What do you want people to take away from the week? What do you hope to achieve?

Rory: The chefs play such a huge influential role impacting consumer demand. Now more than ever the chef and the consumer want to know the “story” which includes where the products are from and are the products sustainably harvested. The story becomes organic when you take the chef to source and let them meet the people, see first-hand the harvesting practices and get the chefs in the kitchen right there to create their own expression of the food.  Our hope is that we increase the demand for Maine Oysters outside of Maine and the visiting chefs and oyster influencers help carry forward our story!

Many thanks to both Ryan and Rory for getting us excited. We hope to see you there, starting on June 14th! As a final teaser, here's a video to from a couple of shuckers on the scene...

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