If you really want to taste Guernsey, then try a Guernsey oyster. There aren’t many foods whose flavour is so determined by the environment in which it grows as the oyster, and as an island of 25 square miles Guernsey has an unbreakable bond with the sea that surrounds it.
Guernsey Oysters are grown and harvested by Charlotte, Justin and Carl in the waters off Herm and also in Rocquaine Bay. Their oyster beds in Herm are in a uniquely isolated and undisturbed environment, submerged in the clear, nutrient-rich waters of the Gulf Stream and only uncovered on spring low tides. Oysters are bivalves that filter the nutrient rich algae that they feed on from the water that flows past them, so the health and cleanliness of the waters in which they are raised is essential. They are an indicator species of the health of an ecosystem, and are a sustainable shellfish that maintain and improve the health of our oceans. Oysters take on the flavour of the water in which they are raised, so different oysters from different places have distinct flavours. The flavour of an oyster is also determined by the variety; Guernsey Oysters raise Pacific Oysters (crassostrea gigas), a variety that originated in Japan and which develops plump, sweet tasting morsels inside a deep-cupped shell.
“Guernsey oysters natural, clean taste is like a small taste of pure ocean. Slightly salty and not too fishy, the words our customers always use to describe them are pure, clean and fresh.”
Charlotte Dickson, Guernsey Oysters
The seed (or spat, as young oysters are known) comes from Guernsey Sea Farms who have been producing oyster and clam seed for thirty years and export it all over the world from a former granite quarry flooded with seawater in Vale. They supply oyster farms with seed as far afield as Canada and South Africa such is the quality of stock that they produce, but it means that Guernsey Oysters are truly local which is very unique in the world of oyster production.
Guernsey Oysters supply all the local restaurants and hotels via the network of wholesalers in the Island. Featuring on menus in Alderney, Sark and Herm on occasion they are enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. All of the oysters that are consumed on Guernsey are done so within 10 miles of where they were farmed. Guernsey oysters also exports to France and England for re-laying and on growing.
The oyster seed is supplied at around the size of a finger nail and is put into mesh bags which are then placed on table frames that raise the young oysters off the sea bed and put them right in the paths of the currents that deliver their food. They stay here for between 1-2 years, filtering up to 50 gallons of seawater a day and growing until they are large enough to be harvested when the oyster beds are uncovered on a spring low tide and the bags can be carried away by hand. The oysters are then transferred into depuration tanks for 48 hours where filtered water is passed through them, allowing them to be delivered at the cleanest and highest standard possible to local market, local restaurants, or the export arena.
Guernsey Oysters are unique in their provenance, and provide a unique opportunity to taste a place. Winter is a time when oysters are often at their best, and they are a particularly popular feature on Christmas menus in France. If you see Guernsey Oysters appearing on a menu at this time of year (or any other, for that matter) then we encourage you to seize the opportunity and enjoy this fantastic and amazingly local shellfish.