It was the best of times, it was the best of times! I recall sitting at Peter Shields Inn, or was it the Ebbitt Room, I was practically drooling waiting in anticipation for the most succulent oysters the Delaware Bay has to offer. They arrived, perfectly shucked, their liquor brimming to the top of the shell, I carefully held the shell up to my lips and with a quick tilt of my head – pure bliss. Briny, sweet, firm flesh, these oysters were amongst the best I have ever eaten. Sadly, they were gone in no time, the excellent entrée to come was anticlimactic.
Now these were no ordinary oysters, shipped in from points along the East or West coast. No these are oysters local to Cape May: Cape May Salts and Sweet Amalias. Both as delicious as they are different.
Oyster farming in the Delaware bay began in the mid-1800s as wild oyster stocks were depleted. Commercial oyster farming was hugely successful through the early part of the 20th century, when powerful dredging machines stressed the oyster population. That coupled with the introduction of a parasite led to high mortality rates of immature oysters.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s when improvements in habitat and better farming techniques led to a renaissance in oyster growth and crop yields.
Cape May Salts
Beginning with the first oyster crop in 1997, Cape May Salts Oyster Farm has been at the forefront of revitalizing shellfish farming in the Delaware Bay – learn more about their sustainable farming techniques. Cape May Salts are a medium sized oyster with firm flesh and a delicately briny finish – hence the name!
Located along the bay outside of Port Norris, New Jersey, Cape May Salts operates two farms. They supply oysters to restaurants all along the East coast as well as being staples in many of Cape May’s finest establishments. In fact, you can order oysters from their website and have then express shipped to your home for a taste of Cape May anytime!
Sweet Amalia Oyster Farm
Also located along the Delaware Bay in Middle Township, New Jersey, Sweet Amalia Oyster Farm uses a European rack and bag culture method to raise incredibly delicious oysters. The cool, clean waters of Cape Shore Flats is the perfect environment for Sweet Amalia’s environmentally friendly farming techniques. Lisa Calvo, owner of Sweet Amalia is also a proponent of sustainable aquaculture.
Their oysters are of medium size, with a buttery flesh and signature hint of sweetness. No mignonette or lemon for me, thank you – Mother Nature has perfectly flavored these gems of the sea. Of course, fresh oysters pair well with a crisp cocktail; martini is always the right answer.
Sweet Amalia also operates a small market at 994 US Route 40, Newfield New Jersey; about an hour North of Cape May. Aside from freshly shucked oysters, they offer an assortment of soups, salads and sandwiches. The farm market was included in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Top 10 restaurants for 2021. How wonderful!
Words cannot do justice to how amazingly delicious these local New Jersey oysters are. If you’ve never had oysters before, I would think either would be a good introduction to, as the French say, fruits de mare. Just don’t try to take any from my plate!
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