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Last night I was talking to my sister Shannon about the cull. As she put it: “You don’t talk about actually harvesting oysters much.” It’s true, I haven’t really gotten into the harvesting part. We were actually be out on the tide yesterday and will go back out today to hand pick oysters. The tide only gets low enough to do it every couple of weeks so on the days in between, Berg or Skip go out dragging.
At the moment, that’s not the point of my job. Instead, I told her about a game we play with each other and with Skip while we’re culling. One of us will pick up an oyster from the TBC crate (tbc = to be culled) and ask, “What would you do with this one?”
Here’s the thing about the cull: We’re hand-inspecting every single oyster that comes out of the water. Each oyster is like a puzzle piece. It can go into three or four different piles depending on it’s size or shape — and there are as many different shapes for an oyster as there are snowflakes. No two are ever exactly alike. So we pick up every oyster and ask ourselves, “Where should I put this one?” Would it go into the 3′s pile (our standard, perfect oyster), the Graybar pile (a rounder, deeper cup oyster named for a restaurant that originally asked for that style), the Per Se pile (also called the Porn Star, this is the oyster specifically ordered by Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant), or the RTG pile (Return To Grant, or the oysters that need to repair themselves or get a little bigger)?
The answer changes with every oyster and I’ve gone from taking full minutes to answer that question to a split second. While it’s a repetitive movement that might seem mundane, we’re tasked with paying very close attention to details. It is the most important part of our job since it’s the whole reason we are able to provide a consistent product to our restaurants. Each pile has to look roughly the same so that when a restaurant gets one of our bags, they can plate a complete dozen or half dozen orders that look alike. It’s our quality control and it’s the reason chefs love our product. It will probably be the topic of many posts so the more I come to understand it, the better I’ll be able to describe it.
But there’s also a lot of other things happening on the farm right now. The big news last week was a shipment of day boat scallops that came in off the Cape. We were trying these out to see what chefs think and I’m guessing the verdict is good. I went to Eastern Standard on Saturday night and chef Jeremy Sewell managed to save us the last two. He grilled them and soaked them in butter, then served them whole on the shell. While this made them tricky to eat (they didn’t release from the shell) the final result was outstanding – really sweet, huge meaty chunks of scallops. I’m hoping they become a fixture for us. I’d never seen a live scallop out of the water and these babies were clackers. They were huge and could probably snap your finger off if you got too close. But they’re gorgeous and hopefully you can find them around Boston and New York in the next few weeks.
We’re also deep into preparations for the Island Creek Oyster Festival 2009. (Save the date: September 12.) Shore and I are working on a stellar lineup of chefs and the committee is in full swing. More on that as we get going.
Other big news that I’m super excited about: the farm is getting chickens. No, no… You won’t be seeing Island Creek chickens on any menus. But Skip did order some chicks which should arrive in a few weeks so that, at the very least, the farm will have fresh eggs every day. Can’t wait for those to get here. Another sure sign of spring, if you ask me.