Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

oyster of all marine molluscs the most prized and, until it was overtaken by the mussel, the most cultivated. Almost alone among the molluscs, it has been the subject of a book at once scientific and poetic, Eleanor Clark’s The Oysters of Locmariaquer. There is no better source from which to imbibe information.

All oysters begin their lives as ‘spat’, minuscule creatures which emerge by the million and then look for something to which they can attach themselves. In nature this might be a rock, upon which the tiny oysters would grow (if not eaten by one of their numerous predators such as starfish, whelks, and slipper limpets) and eventually expire, after eight years or so spent filtering the sea-water and extracting nourishment from it. However, when man takes a hand, their lives are less sedentary. First, if all goes according to plan, they will alight on specially prepared and positioned tiles (or other contrivances), on which they will spend eight months or so. These tiles will then be gathered up, so that the tiny oysters can be removed and redistributed in ‘parks’ or basins, incorporating some degree of shelter from predators, for what the French call the élevage stage. This lasts several years. Finally, the adult oysters are likely to be removed to five-star accommodation (the best of everything) for affinage (finishing).