A short history of modern oysters in French cuisine
Let's talk about a bivalve mollusc.
In 2010, UNESCO recognised French cuisine as Immaterial Cultural Heritage. Food is an integral part of the culture in France and apart from Champagne, the baguette, foie gras and cheese, I believe it’s fair to say the oyster represents Gallic food heritage better than any other product.
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It may be a relatively small fraction of the market, a niche even, but oyster cultivation is as big deal in France. Each region has its own kind of oyster, which makes France the biggest European consumer, and producer, of this bivalve mollusc.
The history of oyster cultivation dates back to Roman times, but modern farming methods only go back to the early 19th century, when locals started using salt pans in a small area in Northern France, on the Atlantic, near Nantes and Bordeaux.
Production methods have changed, but the core of production stayed the same because the thing with oysters is, they comes with their own calendar. Some things did change, however, because contemporary cuisine requires, first and foremost, a modern and fresh approach. Having said that, tradition and quality are still of the utmost importance which is why, according to Huîtres Amélie, one of the leaders in the market, “only 10 % of production is actually selected for eating”.
When I say “leaders of the market”, I mean it. If you order oysters at any Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe, there’s a very high statistical probability they came from Amélie’s production.
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Oysters are a very specific product in a very specific niche of a very specific market. If you’re partial to a bit of a salmon, go to Norway. If you like oysters, go to France. Or the Tube in London ‘cause the city has its own type of oyster, too. Pah.