For aficionados and beginners, a quick guide to French oysters' world.
"I love oysters. It is like kissing the sea on the lips"
Léon-Paul Fargue, a French poet (1876 - 1947), really nailed down - in my opinion - what it feels like to eat oysters: it is one of the most sensual, indulging experience in someone's life - no, I am not exaggerating - and that is probably why some people can't bring themselves to even try them. It's a sensorial experience: you need to be ready for it.
If you feel you are, wether you are an aficionado or a beginner, the best place to have them is definitely France.
In modern times, France was the first country in Europe to largely cultivate the briny bivalves. Nowadays France harvest some 130,000 tons each year, making France the largest producer in Europe.
France cultivates two big categories of oysters: the Pacific Oysters, and the European Oysters.
- The Pacific kind: in France they are called creuses. They were originally imported in the '70ies from Japan. They are oval and contained within a ribbed shell. The vast majority of the oysters produced now in France belongs to this variety.
These broad category includes different types of Oysters, divided in Fines, Spéciales, Fines de Claires, Spéciales de Claires, Pousse en Claires and Papillons (very small).
This seemingly complicated subdivision simply indicates the time that oysters spend in the pond (growing) and the amount of space each is given to grow (Fine de Claires are the least expensive because 20 are stored per each square meter, whereas Pousse en Claires are 3 in the same amount of space).
- The European kind: is the native oyster of France, where they are called plates. They are much rounder and flatter than the creuses kind, and are the most rare between the two categories.
This category includes two types: the Belon and the Marennes one.
Bélon are the ones that have been refined in the estuary of Belon River in southern Brittany; Marennes are known also as "les vertes" (the green ones), green colored oysters that spend months in Marennes in special basin called "claires", a process that produces as a result a sweeter meat.
Many people refer to Belon as to European oysters in general, but this expression is not correct, as the name refers to the Region where they are cultivated. Basically, all the Belon are plates, but not all the plates are Belon.
In France, oysters can be classified also by number: from 0 to 5 for the creuses, up to 6 for the plates. This indicates the size of the oyster, in reverse order: oysters number 2 are bigger than number 5, for example.
Last but not least, oysters can be classified also by place of origin: there are many, but just to give you a range of options you can find oysters from Normandy, Brittany, southern Brittany, Aquitaine, Mediterranean…
After knowing what you are working with, here comes the most fun part: picking a favorite one, and make it yours.
Written by Elisa della Barba