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bye, bye Free Bird

I came to the end of a mini-era last week as I said goodbye to both Berg and A2. My constant companions on the farm are off to bigger adventures; A2 is headed home to New Hampshire where he’ll be working with his father as an environmental consultant (so, you know, he can actually use that degree). Berg, meanwhile, is leaving next Monday for a 10-week trip to Tanzania where he’ll be working on behalf of the Island Creek Oysters Foundation and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to start building a shellfish hatchery on the island of Zanzibar. (Check out details on how and why this is happening here.) While I’ve known for awhile that both would be moving on, it’s hard to see these guys go, especially since they’ve been such a large part of my farm experience so far.

Seeing as it was A2’s last day on on the farm, I spent Friday afternoon with my crew (or what’s left of it), counting and bagging on the float. I’d been jonesing to get back down there ever since moving into the office so when the guys asked for help, I was happy to throw on my boots and a Grunden jacket again. The oysters have changed, believe it or not. The guys have been pulling up those mesh bags we put down late in December and inside, our oysters are a different shape and color than the were when I left the farm. Some were slightly lighter and more golden than the deep green our oysters get when they’re grown directly on the floor while others were elongated and spindly instead of round and flat. It’s amazing what a difference a few months in the bags will do to the shells. Inside, though, the meat still tastes the same: briny and sweet with a firm, chewy bite.

one last bag toss to load up the truck

It was a great way to end what turned out to be an epic week. It started with the Oyster Stout launch party hosted by Eastern Standard last Monday night, which was followed by tastings at Harpoon Brewery on Tuesday and Thursday and an oyster and beer dinner at B&G Oysters on Wednesday. We drank and ate our fair share and also had a number of opportunities to connect with IC fans and our friends at Harpoon. Everyone at Island Creek has pretty much fallen in love with stout brewer Katie Tame, who is a natural in front of crowds. She and Skip did a great job playing off each other for the crowd at B&G on Wednesday night.

We ended the week a little ragged but still found the energy to toast A2’s farewell with one last beer at Shop Friday (a farm tradition of beers and scotch at one of our grower’s shops).

So what’s next? As for me, I’ve decided to stay on the farm for a little while longer. If it isn’t obvious from my long rambling posts, I’ve kind of fallen in love with the place — and the people aren’t too bad either. As of now, I plan on staying through the summer to help Skip with the seed for another season and to help the guys plan Oyster Fest (mark your calendars: September 11th). It’ll give me a chance to enjoy another summer on the water and to watch the seed we planted last fall grow up into big, tasty, edible oysters. After that, I guess we’ll see.

So this is my way of saying stay tuned. Because the ride ain’t over yet…

There are a million ways a raw bar can go down.

As a shucker, you’re hoping it’s a leisurely pace with oyster lovers cruising by the boat in between socializing and snacking on other appetizers. You shuck until the boat is full of half shells, then fill in oysters as the crowd comes and goes.

This was not the case last Sunday at Sel de la Terre during their annual Pig & Oyster Fest. No, I think it’s safe to say that we got crushed that night. Skip, CJ, Asia, Chris, and I were behind the boat and must have had about 150 people enter the room at the same time (there was a line out the door before we even started). Plates in hand, the crowd descended, mercilessly snatching oysters out from underneath us before we had time to catch up. We shucked as quickly as we could but for two full hours, the masses waited, plucking six oysters at a time before letting another person squeeze into their place to do the same thing.

Thankfully, the guests were nice. No one complained or looked annoyed (though I did detect a few longing glances from folks at the back of a line five deep). But for the shuckers, it was hard both working at that pace and gauging whether the crowd was happy. We sold out of 2200 oysters in 2 hours. Definitely a new record. Afterwords, we took the edge off by downing a few whiskeys with our new friend, Louie the Pig.

Every raw bar we do has its own vibe. At restaurant parties like this, where oysters are the focus, the crowd can be ravenous. They’ve paid a set fee to walk in the door and they expect to get their moneys worth. Other times, when the raw bar is set up amongst multiple food stations and guests have a number of options, our pace is slower and we have time to talk to everyone. It’s a tricky balance but one I’m slowly learning how to control.

My office role has me handling the raw bars that we do, both for events like Sel and for the upcoming wedding season (yes, you can hire us to come out and set up a raw bar — just say the word).

This week, we’re about to get our fill of raw bar insanity. And it’s all thanks to (drum roll please) the release of our OYSTER STOUT! We spent Friday morning at Harpoon Brewery while they bottled up what turns out to be a very impressive version of stout made with oysters.

We had our first taste in the bottling room, amongst the clanking of glass and the noisy machines, around 10 a.m. Fresh from the tank, it was a treat, full of chocolate and roasted smokiness. I could actually smell the ocean on it. The brewery then put us to work capping the bottles with gold foil (Skip worked the bottling line like a champ.)

Later, Nicole, Dave and I split a bottle at home to really get the taste. Dave, a lovably stubborn beer snob, took a few deep whiffs, putting his nose deep into the glass and declared it awesome. With each taste, the smokiness increased, the faintest hint of seawater came through and the stout improved.

The real test, though, occurred last night at Eastern Standard when we drank the stout (from a growler we snuck in to the restaurant) with a plate of Island Creeks. Suddenly, the beer changed. The chocolate notes faded to the background. The oysters woke up a blast of minerality and then the smokiness came roaring through. One oyster, one sip. It really is a magical pair.

To celebrate the beer’s arrival, we’re throwing parties with Harpoon all month. Between restaurant parties and Brewery room tastings, we’ll have raw bars all over town. I highly recommend making it to one of these parties — or tracking down the beer at your nearest retailer. Drink it with oysters or on its own. And if you make it to one of our raw bars, do us a favor and say hello. Tell us what you think. We’ll be hard at work shucking. But we always have time to chat and have a beer.

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