A hot, clear Saturday morning brought twenty Slow Fooders an hour’s drive south of Auckland city to the Clevedon Oyster Farm at Kawakawa Bay. From the road you can see the shop, and round the back across a white shell path you can stand by the shoreline and look over to Waiheke Island across the Gulf. Out on the water you can see the post and rail fences of the oyster farm, half submerged in the low tide. What you can’t see is the hundreds of baskets and racks that hold the developing oysters, from tiny shells the size of a fingernail to the mature specimens all but ready for the market. It’s an impressive sight, and on a fine day you’d have to think oyster farming is a lifestyle to envy. Of course there’s a bit more to it, and our host for the day Stuart gave us a tour of the plant and the lowdown on an industry that does most of its work under water.

Oysters are prolific in the Kaipara Harbour, which is where most of the wild spat used to grow oysters at Clevedon are harvested. Spat is collected on wooden racks and transported to Clevedon where the racks are arranged on a post and rail system to take advantage of the Waitemata tides. Some are placed in wire baskets attached to a longline system and mecahnically raised twice weekly to get the necessary time out of the water. Stuart showed us around the production line, the berth where the barge unloads the day’s harvest, the ‘octagon’ mecahnical sorter, and the sifting device that separates the oysters by size. We were there at low tide, so the plant was quiet, but Stuart explained the different stages of growth, the methods of immersion and harvest, and the planning that goes into the production process.

Oyster farming is heavily dependent on natural processes. Spawn are released in ideal temperature conditions and form the spat that in time develop into mature oysters. The growth period is over a year, and oysters need a mix of time in and our of the water to develop. The water is tested weekly for contamination and toxic blooms. Read more about the farming process on the Clevedon Oyster Farm website.

Johnathan Swift apparently said “he was a bold man that first eat an oyster”. Bold he may have been, but he had plenty of company when it came to tasting the Clevedon product. Awkward little devils to prise out of their shells, but that just allows for a little more anticipation, and the chance to get the taste buds working. A dash of dressing, a squeeze of lemon, and there was nothing ‘slow’ about Slow Food oyster consumption. Have a look at the photo of Laurel for an image of oyster bliss.

Thanks to Joan, Tanya and Sue for organising, including the lunch to follow at the Clevedon pub.

Here’s an oyster poem (apologies to Swift):

(1667 – 1745)

Charming oysters I cry:
My masters, come buy,
So plump and so fresh,
So sweet is their flesh,
The Clevedon oyster
Is sweeter and moister:
Your stomach they settle,
And rouse up your mettle:
They’ll make you a dad
Of a lass or a lad;
And madam your wife
They’ll please to the life;
Be she barren, be she old,
Be she slut, or be she scold,
Eat my oysters, and lie near her,
She’ll be fruitful, never fear her.