Southern Living has partnered with Virginia.org to form a guest blogger network. Today’s post is provided by guest blogger Brianna Simmons of Casual Travelist. Check back every Monday and Thursday for new ways to explore the state of Virginia.
Historically, Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay were a haven for oysters. Journals from the crews that sailed with Capt. John Smith (of Pocahontas and Jamestown Settlement fame), mentioned feasting on oysters after landing near Virginia Beach. Some historians liken the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster boom of nineteenth and early twentieth century to California’s gold rush; it was hard work that sustained many and made a few very rich with “Lynnhaven Fancies”, oysters reportedly as big as a dinner plate and considered prized delicacies by New York’s elite. Thanks to the efforts of a handful of committed watermen and women, Virginia oysters are back and in a big way. In 2015 The Virginia Oyster Trail was created to highlight Virginia’s oyster culture offering a variety of tastes and experience for the ostreaphile.
As wine is a product of its terroir, oysters are also representative of their merroir with a flavor unique to the area where they were grown. Virginia is blessed with miles of coastline along the Atlantic and throughout the Chesapeake Bay with 7 distinct oyster regions resulting in oysters each with their own flavors and nuances. From the brininess of Eastern Shore salts to the creamy Rappahannock sweets and the perfectly balanced flavors of Tidewater, Virginia has an oyster for everyone.
Looking to sample the bounty of Virginia’s waters yourself? Here are a few suggestions.
The easiest way to get your Virginia oyster fix is at any one of a number of restaurants throughout Virginia. From waterside seafood shacks to farm-to-table bistros there is a little something for every taste. On the Eastern Shore The Shanty in Cape Charles offers locally caught seafood and sunset views of the Chesapeake Bay. Richmond’s acclaimed Rappahannock, as one of the restaurants for Rappahannock River Company, is the epitome of water-to-table dining, featuring the delicately rich oysters the Upper Chesapeake is fast becoming known for.
Looking to get a more in-depth oyster experience? Look into a growing number of oyster farm tours. In Virginia Beach where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, join Chris Ludford of Pleasure House Oysters for a look into the history and ecology of oysters in Lynnhaven Inlet before sampling oysters straight from the water. You can also explore the waters further up the Chesapeake with a number of local watermen on a Virginia’s Watermen Heritage Tour.
Another great way to experience Virginia’s oyster culture is at one of the local festivals and oyster roasts held throughout the year. November has been designated Wine and Brine Month, a month-long celebration of oysters and wine on Virginia’s Eastern Shore while the Urbanna Oyster Festival, which takes place on the banks of the Rappahannock River, is the largest and longest running oyster festival in the country.
Find out more about the “Oyster Capital of the East Coast” at Virginia.org