All oysters grown on the east coast are of the same species, called Crassostrea Virginica. Oysters take on the flavor of the waters in which they are harvested. The salinity levels of the Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries are ideal for sustaining great tasting oysters.
With eight different coastal habitats, the flavors of Virginia oysters range from salty to buttery to sweet. Some of the creeks on the Virginia Eastern Shore are no more than a mile apart. Yet the oysters from each region take on different nuances in flavor, texture and appearance.
Oysters can be eaten raw, steamed, grilled and fried. They can also be cooked in a stew. Raw oysters are usually served with lemon juice, vinegar or cocktail sauce. Like fine wine, raw oysters have complex flavors. If you eat them often, you will learn to differentiate the oysters from different regions and know which ones you prefer.
OYSTER FLAVOR GUIDE:
REGION 1 (SEASIDE)
Initial bold saltiness mellowing into a taste of sweet butter/cream at the finish.
REGION 2 (UPPER BAY EASTERN SHORE)
Classic Virginia Bay oyster flavor with balanced salt and sweet, with a savory finish.
REGION 3 (LOWER BAY EASTERN SHORE)
Salty and creamy with mellow sweetness with a quick finish.
REGION 4 (UPPER BAY WESTERN SHORE)
Sweetwater oyster with a light cream taste.
REGION 5 (MIDDLE BAY WESTERN SHORE)
Lightly salty with easily distinguished cream or butter and a pleasant slight minerality.
REGION 6 (LOWER BAY WESTERN SHORE)
Mild saltiness moving to a sweet finish.
REGION 7 (TIDEWATER)
Salty oyster with sweetness and a smooth finish.
REGION 8 (TANGIER/MIDDLE CHESAPEAKE BAY)
Traditional Virginia Bay Oyster flavor with a balance of salt and sweet, and a savory butter/cream finish.
Important consumer message - Oysters harvested from approved waters, packed under sanitary conditions, and properly refrigerated are usually safe for raw consumption by healthy individuals. Cooking oysters to an internal temperature of 140’ F or greater for 4-6 minutes destroys the common microorganisms of public health concern. Oysters can be enjoyed in a variety of cooked preparations including steamed, stewed, roasted, baked, broiled, sauteed, poached, and fried.
As in the case with consuming other raw animal protein products, there is a risk associated with consuming raw oysters, clams, and mussels, particularly for certain individuals with predisposed medical conditions. If you suffer from chronic illness of the liver, stomach, or blood, or have immune disorders, do not eat these products raw.