Discovering Morro Bay oysters

Neal Maloney farms Pacific Gold oysters in Morro Bay, CA, a prime spot for these little treats

  • Grab a local, crunchy oyster po’boy at Miss Lola’s SouthSide Gril. $; 560 Embarca­dero; 805/772-8400.

     

    Oyster po'boy

    Photo by Chris Leschinsky

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Some oysters have fragile rims, and these the twins grind against the table. Bits of shell fly everywhere. “Roughing them up makes them better,” Neal says. Those oysters will go back into the water to build up another layer of shell, creating deeper bottom cups—and filling them out with plumper, more luscious bodies. Morro Bay Oyster Company tends three-quarters of a million oysters each year, all by hand.

The oyster as eco hero

Neal tells me why he likes raising them while—snick, snick—he pops open a few more oysters to taste. For lowly mollusks, they’re pretty impressive. They don’t eat ground-up fish the way other farmed seafood, like salmon, do. Being filter feeders, all they need is plankton, a floating buffet of microorganisms already in the water. This makes oysters not only cheap to raise but also harmless to other species.

What’s more, their industrious filtering clarifies the bay, which makes for cleaner water and gives eelgrass the light it needs to grow. There’s a big patch of eelgrass just a few hundred yards away from the platform, in fact. It buffers the shoreline from erosion, making the water that much purer.

I can see how rewarding it might be to raise something that tastes good and gives back. But it’s a lot of work dealing with winches and a floating dock, and shaking bags that weigh up to 100 pounds each, whenever the tide is low, day or night. What would possess a person to want such a life? “My office is Mother Nature,” Neal says. “We see these sunsets and sunrises. Sometimes I’m out at midnight, harvesting oysters, and the winds die down and there’s a full moon—it’s like it’s neon.”

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