Oysters of Charente-Maritime

The special production process of the distinctive flavoured Marennes-Oléron oysters of the Atlantic west coast of France...

Oyster farming techniques are similar all over France but in Marennes-Oléron, oysters end their days by being "refined" in ponds known as claires.

The female oyster produces over one million eggs and, after about twenty days, the eggs begin to settle on supports. The first task of the producer is to provide these clean, solid supports (called collectors) which are made from shells, slate, tiles and even plastic tubing. These collectors are covered in seed oysters and stay in place for about eighteen months until the work begins to remove the young oysters.

The oysters are returned to the sea either by being laid out flat on tables and turned regularly to ensure a good shape is retained or by being placed in pots within iron cages where they are turned every two months until maturity. Oysters feed on plankton and need to filter two litres of sea water every hour. In the winter months they are at their best being fleshy and tasty.

For the Marennes oyster, there is a further final stage to be completed when they are placed into the claires. A type of seaweed, blue Navicule, grows in these ponds and it is the pigment of this plant which gives the Marennes oyster its green colouring and, the producers say, its extra special taste! The claires themselves are ponds dug into the mud and clay of ancient salt pans, which are now being renewed after the decline of salt production in the 19th century .

In December 2004 oyster growers were forced to mount vigilante patrols, hiring round the clock security and installing alarm systems in an attempt to foil gangs of oyster snatchers! According to the French police, the Gendarmes, up to 85 percent of oyster thieves are professionals with books of illicit orders. The French themselves are the worlds' leading consumers of oysters, cracking open a massive 1.8 billion each year! This keeps 8,300 farmers in business who, between them turn over more than 275 million euros annually.

A Dangerous Delicacy

Many severe accidental injuries occur during the opening of an oyster: over two thousand people per year cut themselves, 20 percent of whom need hospital treatment, take care!

A Special Recipe

For the purist, there is only one way to eat an oyster: fresh from the sea with a good glass of white wine and some crusty bread. However, for those who would like to try something different, here is a rather special recipe:

Huitre aux Amandes

  • a dozen fresh oysters
  • half a cup of ground almonds
  • half a cup of butter
  • one clove of garlic crushed
  • one tablespoon of cognac
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to medium and blend all ingredients except for the oysters. After opening the oysters, drain them and pat dry (they should be fairly dry to ensure that the butter mix coats them well). Cover each one in the butter mixture, bake for 8 minutes and enjoy!

Further Information

Article by Kate Ramsdens of Cross Channel TV