Olympia oysters (ostrea lurida) hold a special place in our heart here at Hog Island. As a true California native, Olympia’s once flourished with wild abundance along the Pacific Coast from southern California to southern Alaska. A slow growing and sensitive species, ‘Oly’s’ had nearly disappeared from San Francisco Bay completely by the late 1800’s, due to overharvesting during the California Gold Rush migration (1848-50s) and massive silting from hydraulic mining in California's Sierra Nevada (1850s-1880s). But the tiny bivalve is now on the rebound, owing to a myriad of restoration projects and a few painstakingly dedicated farmers.
One of these farmers is a Hog Island friend, and colleague, Duane Fagergren, who farms shellfish in Totten Inlet, WA in South Puget Sound. Duane, who refers to Oly’s as his “labor of love” has been farming oysters all his life. Now in 'semi' retirement he and his wife run a smaller, boutique farm where they focus almost exclusively on Olympia oysters for market.
In Duane’s words, “Olympias deserve a comeback and we, as farmers, have a duty to bring them back.” As past president of Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, Duane is committed to the shellfish industry and the natural, sustainable shellfish farming that the industry association promotes. Currently, he relies on hatchery seed but his goal is to bring back enough broodstock (adult oysters) so that the natural, wild population can come back in abundance. He adds, “Olympia’s have such a unique flavor and that characteristic taste alone, deserves for them to make a comeback.”
The flavor of Olympia’s is “like a fine wine,” starting off with one distinct flavor and finish with a completely different note that hits your taste buds in a myriad of different ways. Characterized by a rich, earthy sweetness, followed by a bright coppery finish, these cherished gems (though small in size, only about the size of a silver dollar) pack a powerful flavor punch. Their long history, unique taste, and the dedication of a select few working to champion their return, truly make them the oyster lover’s oyster.
This month Hog Island features Olympia oysters from the beautiful Pacific Northwest's Totten and Little Skookum Inlets in Washington State.