This past January's Merroir Terroir at Terrapin was a good one. Local oysterman Chris Ludford and Terrapin's sommelier Daniel Kieser were at the helm of the event with a nice line-up of West Coast oysters and bonus appearance of a local favorite.
We arrived just in time to sit and catch the beginning of the event. We were lucky enough to be sandwiched in-between friends and aquintances—Rex and Lisa Hamaker to our left and the Jo Ann and Buzzy Hoffheimer to our right. Chris talked a bit about oysters and some techniques in enjoying the experience. Looking at the oyster being served, the color of the shell can give you an idea of the environment it was raised in, the size and shape are good indicators of what region they came from, etc..
When it came to tasting you want to smell the oyster, sip it's liquor and then slurp it in. You can pick up the different textures of the oyster when you chew it. Some parts are strong then others, some sweeter. He also talked a little bit about umami. Umami has been classified as one of the five basic tastes together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. It was founded in Japan, hence the name, and was only officially recognized in the 1980s. It is savory and can be found naturally in tomatoes, aged cheese and dry cured hams among other things. Oysters are packed with it!
As we listened to Chris the plates of oysters started to appear from the kitchen. We didn't know what we were going to be having, so it was a pleasant surprise to see what was going to be our launching point.
The first oyster we were having was one of our favorites, the Kusshi. These are from the West Coast and have small, deep bowls. The oysters form these types of shells due to tumbling that breaks off the edges. This prompts the oyster to grow a deeper and thicker shell. Blonde, lavender to dark hues color the scalloped shells. The batch we had were very varied from one to the next. Chris suggested that they might have mixed up several batches from the farming area which caused the differences. Variation in color is due to bottom sediment make-up. Daniel poured a 2012 Domaine Pichot Vouvray Le Peu de la Moriette Demi-Sec from Loire, France with this oyster. The pairing was perfect! Sipping a little bit of the white with a little bit of the oyster in my mouth blended well and highly complimented the flavors of both. Great finish and lingering aftertaste was very pleasant.
Second, we were poured Sokol Blosser Evolution 18th Edition, a white blend from Oregon. On our plates were the Rolls Royce of oysters – the Kumamoto! These were raised in Humboldt Bay, CA and had salt up front with a sweet, butterly flesh. The bite was crisp and fruity—think green grapes or light melon. I've only had these a couple of times so this was a treat. They are small but pack a punch, I could imagine eating a bag of these by myself. The wine was bright and paired well with the initial saltiness of the oyster liquor; I think the Evolution would definitely be good with spicy food.
Our third course was another variety of Kusshi known as a Shigoku (which means something along the lines of “outstanding” in Japanese), this particular oyster is being marketed under the name “Fat Bastard.” What separates these from other Kusshi oysters is that they are tumbled by the tides themselves. The oysters are put in bags that are suspended by floats so they never touch the bottom. Twice a day when the tides change the oysters are tumbled. I expected the shells to be bright without coloration, but they were lined with thick, dark stripes. Regardless of what the shell looked like (which was pretty!) they oysters were delicious! Shelby said it was her favorite oyster of the night. Meaty with a strong melon finish. We had a 2012 Côte Bonneville Cabernet Franc Rosé from the DuBrul Vinyard in the Yakima Valley, the arid desert region of Central Washington hold ideal growing conditions for certain grapes. It was citrusy, a little strong for the oyster I thought; still a good bottle though.
We actually got a fourth course and we made our way back to the East Coast with Chris' own Pleasure House Oysters! Salty liquor, juicy, these were bred especially for Terrapin restaurant. Smaller and easier to eat, these were started in 2013. The standard Pleasure House Oyster is huge, the idea behind farming these a little smaller was that it would be a lot less oyster to handle from one shell. The big ones are called chokers for a reason. Daniel poured a 2012 Bollini Pinot Grigio from Trentino, Italy. It went well with the five Lynnhaven mollusks Chris generously gave us. It was my lucky night too, one of the patrons at the end of the bar had a pea crab in her oyster I got to eat. About eating it herself, she said something along the lines of "maybe next time."
While we enjoyed out oysters and wine Chris described some of the recent conditions of the Lynnhaven. In 2013, Lynnhaven Inlet didn't have as much rain which in turn increased the salinity of the water. These conditions directly affect the flavor of an oyster. The tide has a huge influence on how an oyster tastes too. Tide creates flow, the flow of the water provides food for the oysters. Like most of what we eat, the animal's diet can be detected in its flesh. He said we should consider the oyster when we purchase animals to eat. Try to know where they came from and how they've been handled. The Pleasure House Oysters we ate that night were only touched 15 times before we ate them.
Oh, another nice thing about Merroir Terroir that night is that it was Shelby's Birthday. They brought out a little Valhrona Cocoa Chocolate Pudding with Sea Salt and Olive Oil. Next to the pudding was a single candle that glowed warmly at the low-lit bar. A great way to cap off the evening of great oysters, wine and company.