Discovering the Flavours of PEI OystersDiscovering the flavours of PEI, Canada’s Food Island, is an exciting journey that can last a lifetime. Consider these tasting notes as a guide on that journey.World FamousPEI has earned a worldwide reputation for its excellent oysters and boasts a thriving, progressive oyster fishery that spans three centuries. The esteemed quality of the Island’s oysters can be attributed to the region’s ideal growing environment and the dedicated Islanders that harvest and pack them.Tasting NotesPerhaps the most important insight into the world of oyster tasting is this: the flavours of an oyster are not a constant. Much like each vintage of a particular wine reveals the conditions under which the year’s grapes were grown, so too do the flavours of the oyster reveal much about its life at sea. There are several rhythmically changing factors that drastically affect the flavours of all oysters. In this sense, any “tasting notes” you encounter on a menu or website are best appreciated as a snapshot of one oyster and one person’s palate at a certain time. In our humble opinion, this makes for a great tasting adventure every time you sit down (or stand up!) to enjoy a platter of oysters – you never know exactly what you’ll get! Changing FactorsThe foremost factor affecting an oyster’s flavour is the season.PEI is subject to mighty big seasonal changes and these directly reflect the oyster’s flavour. Remember that most oysters are harvested and then brought to market alive. As such, they will convey the water conditions from which they were plucked.Melting snow and heavy rainfalls flood the river systems in the spring, making for oysters that are usually less salty. The same oyster that has been feeding all summer and is ready to spawn in the fall will exhibit more of the rich, earthy notes characteristic of these conditions.Oysters that have been dormant under the thick ice of winter will have a different taste, often revealing more of their delicate mineral flavours.Another key factor to account for is how the oysters are handled and served. It is incredibly important that oysters are properly stored and shucked. If the utmost care is not taken, the delicacy and delicious qualities of a live oyster will be greatly diminished.Proper handling requires that the oysters be stored in a damp and cold environment. They also need to be carefully opened, avoiding any excessive destruction of the flesh or the forcing of bits of shell and dirt into the meat.Learning to identify a properly shucked oyster will enhance your appreciation of its flavours and help you discern which restaurants are best for oyster feasting. Dressed or NakedTo dress or not to dress? That’s always a point of consideration when it comes to oyster flavours and condiments.Many people enjoy a condiment or topping on their oyster, ranging from a simple squeeze of lemon or splash of flavoured vinegar to some concoction of sauces and shavings that’s well-intentioned but often overpowering.Even the slightest of these will greatly alter the flavour of an oyster. Often, the careful addition of a condiment will augment the flavour, lifting the taste of the mollusk from its salty enclave. We refer to this as being properly dressed.Even with the sometimes happy effect of a dressing, it should be understood that any critical approach to oyster tasting is best done without any additions to its delicate flesh.Oysters enjoyed unadorned are usually referred to as being neat or naked. This is the only way that most of the subtle nuances of flavour can be tasted. Plus, it’s just fun to say… “oysters are best eaten naked!” Swallow or ChewThere is a longstanding belief that the proper way to eat an oyster is to swallow it whole. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Where this maxim originated is unclear, but rest assured that to do so would be akin to shooting a well-aged whisky.In order to properly taste even the broadest flavour profiles, the oyster should be chewed a few times before swallowing. Chewing it will reveal any of the flavours that linger within the flesh beyond the easily apparent saltiness of the liquid in the shell. The Five Signposts of FlavourIn your oyster forrays, you are likely to happen upon flavour descriptions that use complex and convoluted charts. These are mostly borrowed from the sophisticated wine-tasting community. While they may offer some direction,there is a much simpler formula to identify and express the essential flavours present in oysters.There are five broad flavour categories present, to one degree or another, in all PEI oysters. These can be used as clear signposts on the journey of discovery into an oyster’s flavours. They are as follows:Salty: The initial flavour and usually most apparent. The liquid or “liquor” in the shell is the principal source but there is a degree of saltines within the flesh as well. This varies greatly depending upon when the oyster is harvested.Earthy: An earthy or umami flavour is the principal profile of the flesh of a PEI oyster. The slow-moving tidal rivers where the oysters grow contain a variety of microscopic particles. The oyster ingests these and takes on their flavour. The easiest flavour comparison is to that of a raw mushroom.Grassy: Some of the microscopic particles ingested by the oyster are plants that contain chlorophyll and these can lend a somewhat herbaceous flavour to the oyster. These crisper tones are less common in most PEI oysters and more prevalent in the spring and summer.Metallic: Oysters will ingest and retain any number of minerals in the water. These elements add greatly to the nutritional value of the food. Often subtle, these complex flavours are what most distinguish one variety of PEI oyster from another.Sweet: A sweet sensation will sometimes occur in a properly chewed oyster and this is derived from the glycogens in the flesh. The sweetest part is usually the more solid adductor muscle that is attached to the shells and cut during shucking. Large PEI oysters with big adductors will often have the sweetest flavour. Your Journey BeginsUsing these five signposts of flavour along your PEI oyster tasting journey should allowyou to develop a ready reference to what you enjoy more in one variety over another.Keep in mind that the most dominant flavours will have some seasonal variationsbut that the more subtle mineral and sweet flavours can remain more constantbetween one variety of oysters and another.It is most important to be open-minded and try different varieties of PEI oysters indifferent seasons. In this way, you’ll create the memories that define your oysterjourney.