The Bluffies are back!

Ring the bells, sing choirs of angels, open the Champagne and do a happy dance….it’s Bluff Oyster season again. For those who know what this means, no further explanation is necessary, as they won’t be reading this anyway; they’ll be trotting down to their local seafood shop or fish-and-chippery, with tongues hanging out and a slight propensity to drool.

For those of you who don’t like oysters, please accept my grateful thanks for leaving more for the rest of us, and stop reading now. For those who love an oyster, but have yet to sample the sublimity that is the Bluff Oyster, read on.

There’s a delightful Kiwi phenomenon to be observed when it’s Bluff Oyster season, and it is the sudden profusion of small, hand-written or home-printed notices which appear overnight in fish and chip shop windows around the country, announcing that they have Bluff Oysters within. No need for an expensive national ad campaign, no tweets, no pleas to be liked on Facebook. These wee signs, stuck coyly in the window, are enough to get the desired result – steady streams of salivating shoppers, ready to hand over the hard-earned for a battered, deep-fried piece of heaven. Depending on where you shop, the prices seem to range between $2 and $3 per oyster – money well-spent, in my view.

Before I go into a full-flight rhapsody about the taste, perhaps a little background is in order. From the Bluff website:

“Some say that Bluff oysters are the finest in the world. They are grown slowly in the cold clean waters of the Foveaux Strait. In season, they are dredged by Bluffs oyster fleet.

Oystering first began commercially at Stewart Island in the 1860s. Coastal cutters were simply beached on the beds at high tide and the oysters shoveled aboard as the tide dropped. The catch was transported in the shell to the mainland and right from the outset demand was so high that within a few years the beds were exhausted. Depleting beds caused the closure of the harvesting in 1877. In 1879 new larger beds were discovered in deeper water and the centre of activity gradually shifted from Stewart Island to Bluff.”

I rather like the word “oystering”. Next time I stroll down to my local F&C shop, I shall announce to all and sundry that I’m going oystering. Possibly with a skip in my step, and whistling a merry tune, who knows. These days there’s a strictly enforced quota, (no more free-for-all shoveling, thank you very much) and a season, which some people mark in their diaries every year. I should also mention, for the foreigners among you, that Bluff is a shipping, fishing town at the southern-most end of the South Island of New Zealand. Cold, wild, and unique. Also the home of the annual Bluff Oyster Festival, where oystering, and the oyster, are the star attractions. I haven’t been to this event yet, but it is definitely on my list of things that must be done, and done soon.

Now to the really important bit – the eating of the oysters. Why are they so special? Partly it’s the size – they can be larger than some other tiddly ones. It’s also the texture – they’re creamier than their counterparts. From an oyster tasting guide (yes, there is such a thing), oysters generally can be described in terms of salinity, briny, meaty, creamy, crisp, vegetal, melon, fruity, metallic, smokey or sweet. From this list I would pick meaty, creamy, and sweet, but I think what’s missing from this list are the emotive words, such as divine, sensational, satisfying, paradise, bliss, gobsmackingly good, and so on. Rather like a wine tasting, there also needs to be a description of the whole palate experience – the Bluffies are smooth on the palate, with little explosions of intense flavour, and a lingering note, like a fond memory.

Finally, in addition to the glad tidings that the Bluff Oyster season is now open, there are also reports that it could be a bumper season – further reason to ring the bells, sing choirs of angels, open the Champagne and do a happy dance.


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