Behind the Scenes: Island Creek Oyster Farm in Massachusetts

[Photograph: Melissa Rivard and Andrew Janjigian]

I've enjoyed eating oysters for years, but it wasn't until recently that I've become something of an oyster zealot. And that was before I had the pleasure of attending a day-long tour of Island Creek Oyster farm, in Duxbury, Massachusetts, followed by a marathon 12-variety, five-species oyster tasting at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston.

Here's the thing: an oyster from one location can have an entirely different flavor profile and texture than another—even one of the very same species—grown in another spot, just miles up the road in a nearby bay. Oysters have terroir; the place and manner of their growth is fundamental to their character. Oyster farmers actually have their own term for this: merroir.

This slideshow should give you a sense of what life is like for the typical oyster grown at Island Creek Oyster Farm on Massachusetts' south shore, just north of Cape Cod. It's an ideal habitat for oyster farming because it's protected on three sides by land and open to Cape Cod bay. This means calm waters with the ideal salinity (between two and three percent) and an ample supply of nutritious plankton for the oysters to feed upon. At any one time, there are between 15 and 20 million oysters growing here. They start their lives about the size of a pepper flake. In these very early stages of growth, they'll double in size nearly every day.

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On to the slideshow »