I never thought culinary school would entail boarding a mud-encrusted dingy on Duxbury Bay. But after a long haul through heavy traffic to the picturesque coastal town, our class swapped chef coats for windbreakers to visit Island Creek Oyster Farm. We motored in between small floating shacks that dotted the inlet until we reached the "oysterplex"—one of ICOF's sorting facilities. Two young men dressed in layers of plaid culled through crates of the day's harvest. There was a special bin for The French Laundry.
Perfect oysters bound for one of the world's best restaurants aren't easy to come by. It takes a dedicated team of aquaculture specialists and fishermen to cultivate the quintessential New England oyster—one that balances salinity with robust sweetness and also has the ideal cupped shell. It also takes about 2 years for the mollusks to go from seed to something you slurp off the half-shell. That's a lot of time spent filtering the waters (and microorganisms) of Duxbury Bay. Talk about terroir—oysters are truly a product of their environment.
We learned about the care and attention to detail that goes into oyster farming. ICOF has an extensive lab and hatchery that gives them a scientific edge and more control. Here they can create the perfect environment for oysters to spawn. They can grow the ideal algae to feed the "babies". They can maintain optimal water temperature and flow during the early stages. And they know exactly when to put the oyster seed into the bay. Everything is calculated and meticulous with the hope that someday, that tiny grain-of-sand sized bivalve will grow up to be good enough for us to enjoy.
Of course, we couldn't leave Duxbury without gaining an appreciation for the end of the oysters' lifecycle. It was only 11:30 am, but with a squeeze of lemon and a tilt of the head, we all blissfully reveled in the fruits of Island Creek's labor.