Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Geography of Oysters

On the plane back to Paris I read Rowan Jacobsen’s outstanding book, A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur’s Guide to Oyster Eating in North America. Jacobsen is a writer for The Art of Eating, America’s greatest food magazine, and in this book he details everything related to this glorious bivalve, from history to shucking technique to nutrition to aquaculture, even making an argument for the ecological benefits of oyster farming. I particularly enjoyed reading his opinions on accompanying libations—most of us tend to lump all oysters into one category when thinking about wine pairings, but Jacobsen points out that the characters of different species call for different wines, preferring sauvignon blanc with Pacific and Kumamoto oysters and champagne or a light, dry grüner veltliner with Eastern ones. He notes, however, that dry sake, beer or a martini with a twist of lemon are usually even better with all species, and that sparkling water is often the best match of all, especially with the assertively flavored Olympias and European Flats.

The heart of the book is the chapter entitled “The Oyster Appellations of North America”, in which he takes the reader on a tour of the oyster-producing regions on both sides of the continent, profiling over 130 different varieties of oysters from all five different species and discussing the factors that give them each their individual character. This book presents ideas of terroir in a more intelligent and detailed manner than most wine books do, and Jacobsen skillfully distills a ton of research into an addictively entertaining and highly informative read. Check out Jacobsen’s excellent website as well, where you’ll find a small blog and an interactive map of oyster regions, as well as contacts for ordering oysters to be shipped to you. You can also download a cool PDF poster entitled “A Dozen Oysters You Should Know.”

This book makes me want to run over to Le Dôme tonight and eat a bunch of oysters, but unfortunately I’m hopelessly under the weather right now and in no shape for shellfish-eating. Vicarious pleasure will have to suffice. By the way, does anyone know if there’s a book anything remotely like this that discusses European oysters? (It wouldn’t have to be in English, although one in, say, Swedish might not do me any good.)


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