Jan 27, 2012: Visit to Hog Island

Oyster World

Hello from California! We're on a long overdue trip to check out the oyster scene in San Francisco and meet up with our friends from the Hog Island Oyster Company. This morning we took a tour with farm manager Erik and his wife Brenna, in charge of marketing and communications for the company. Here are some observations from the road: 1. San Francisco is a truly beautiful city, varied and vibrant. We drove out of the city in the fog and found ourselves on a uninhabited, sunny coastline 20 minutes later. 2. Parking is way easier in Lilliwaup. Our most ridiculous mistake was putting money in the wrong meter and then getting a ticket for being in an unpaid spot. 3. The Hog Island farm is picture perfect. It's located in Marshall, a town so sleepy (in January, at least) and cute that it quickly banished all preconceptions of California as a crowded place of strip malls and cement. Marshall has no cell service and appears to give Lilliwaup a run for its rural money.

Marshall, California You hear a lot about San Francisco's fog, and this morning the weather lived up to the legend. The fog was so thick that on the boatride condensation collected on our eyelashes. Later, once the sun started to come out, we saw a fogbow.

Hog Island grows all of their oysters in bags... they use bags-on-beach, the French rack & bag system, and tumble bags. They grow kumamotos as well as Pacifics, and sell most of their oysters through their own retail stores, farmers markets, and restaurants. We feasted on their delicious Sweetwaters, which are beautifully shaped, firm-textured, mildly briny for being grown so close to the ocean, and as sweet as their name suggests.

Talking to Erik about his farm brought up a couple of examples of regional oyster vernacular:  They call their tumble bags "tipping bags," and refer to oysters that don't make the grade on the first cull (and therefore need more time on the beach) as "returns," while we call them "put backs." (Figuring out that last one... that a return and a put back are the same thing... took a surprisingly long time). Below you can see the eponymous island... small, wooded and pigless:

Once the sun came out and dryness again seemed like a possibility, Adam and Brenna emptied out the water that had collected in their leaky or too-short boots:

After the tour we bellied up in their fantastic picnic area and feasted on raw Sweetwaters with shaved horseradish root, local beer, warm bread, and grilled oysters poached in a chipotle garlic butter. Perfect. Tomorrow we're headed up to Napa to do some guest shucking at the Hog Island Oyster Bar from 2 to 5 pm. If you're in the area, come by to say hi!

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