A small shellfish that fascinates as much as it intrigues - the oyster. Although oysters from the Bay of St Brieuc-Paimpol-Les Caps don’t contain a pearl, they’re nonetheless a real gourmet treasure that demands many years of work, as I discovered at the Ferme Marine Paimpolaise.
At the pointe de Kerarzic in Paimpol, Cécile and André Arin are the third generation to expertly tend to the family’s oyster beds since their creation in 1947. Here, the process is not hurried. The oyster takes its time, rocked by the rise and fall of the tides to produce a shellfish that is more substantial and of higher quality. A technique that has paid off, as out of the 3 types of oysters produced by the family, 2 have been awarded gold and silver medals at the Concours Général d’Agricole.
Working hand-in-hand with nature produces 3 distinct products each with its own unique taste and appearance: Kerarzic oysters which are fine and taste of the sea; grown at the foot of the farm, these are the flagships products of the Marine Farm. Saint-Riom oysters, from the island of the same name, are more fleshy with a stronger flavour due to their longer immersion in the sea. And finally the Bréhat oysters, grown near the Sillon de Talbert in a former mussel farm, grown in Australian baskets suspended from wooden stakes. This technique, unique in the region, results in a product with a very high proportion of flesh, classifying it as a member of the ‘special’ category. Each different oyster has its own aficionados!
Produced at the rhythm of the tides
What makes these shellfish so different in flavour is the Arin family’s expertise in all the stages of production, from the collection of baby oysters right through to the finished product. When the young oysters are big enough, after spending several months in the waters of the Charente Maritime, they are transported here, to flourish in our Breton waters. This is when Cécile, André and their team start a three-year journey to produce a high-quality product governed by the natural elements.
I accompany the oyster farmers who go out to the beds every fortnight according to the tide coefficients. Their actions are almost always the same, whatever the weather: the bags are turned to ensure the oysters develop properly, new ones are introduced and others are transferred to other parts of the site where they’ll continue to grow, or are graded before being put into baskets. Their movements have to be fast, as time is precious when the ebbing tide uncovers the tables. Cleaning, loading, unloading - the work must be done in about two hours, until the next visit.
©Text by: Aurélie Tiercin