As seen in Hilton Head Monthly: On the trail of oysters

Aquaculture, sea-to-table, aqua-tourism, merroir: Larry Hughes loves using expressive terms for the Lowcountry Oyster Trail.

“Why can’t we have aqua-tourism? We have ecotourism,” he said. “It’s just tourism focused on our special marine ecosystem.”

When it comes to oysters, “merroir” is the maritime version of what terroir is to wine — the environmental factors that affect the grapes the wine is made of. The term is gaining acceptance among oyster lovers.

“As I’ve learned from our local watermen and scientists, the taste of oysters is affected by water salinity, tidal change, the nutrients they filter, even their reproductive cycle,” Hughes said. “If wild oysters are left to their own and unharvested, the weight from new oysters on the top layers could actually over time push the ones on the bottom into the pluff mud and they would suffocate. So we’re saving them by eating them.”

As part of his efforts to “save” the oysters, Hughes founded the Lowcountry Oyster Train in November as a tourism and economic development initiative focused on the sea-to-fork movement among foodies. Its geographical boundaries extend south from Charleston to the Georgia border, then west into Georgia to include Chatham and Effingham counties. He was inspired by a similar program in Virginia that has generated millions in revenue for that state.

“What they’ve done is very smart,” he said of the Virginia trail. “For marketing purposes, they’ve divided their state coastline into six oyster regions, claiming each one has a different ‘merroir’ and you have to experience the different tastes.”

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