Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New Oyster in Town

Black Restaurant Group (BRG) has teamed up with the Rappahannock Oyster Company to bring a  new Virginia oyster variety to the market.  Working with Rappahannock's Travis and Ryan Croxton, BRG is now offering Old Black Salt Oysters.  The area of harvest was hand selected by the BRG team and Croxtons to produce oysters that had not been available prior to this corporation.

Old Black Salt oysters are harvested in the Black Narrows, a tight waterway running to the west of Chincoteague Island, VA.  This area is known to have heavy gusts and treacherous swells that provide the oysters growing there with an influx of nutrients and minerals.  The Old Black Salt oysters are one of the saltiest oysters available on the market today, with a salt content of 33ppt.  To put this in perspective, ocean water is around 35ppt.  Along with that fist of salt, Old Black Salts are balanced with a buttery nuance that is typical of Chesapeake oysters.  These oysters are one of kind for their salt and mineral content and really stand out when it comes to local oysters.  Eating one will surprise you and have you thinking that you have been transported to the Canadian Provinces.  It's really amazing how salty a VA oyster can be when farmers put this much thought and effort in selecting the best areas to grow oysters.

The benefits of creating our own signature oysters are not only for our customers; the Chesapeake Bay also benefits.  With our combined effort, the team will seed the water with over 2 million oysters yearly.  Old Black Salts are triploids, meaning that they grow fast and the crop will be rotated more often.  The shells from our oyster sales will be collected and replanted into the Bay in order to provide new oysters with substrate on which to grow.  Old Black Salts are Virginia's newest and saltiest gems.  They are handcrafted oysters produced by artisans and represent the tastiest way for locals to enjoy the merrior of our great Bay.  Eat local, buy local, farm local.  The next time you are in Blacks Bar and Kitchen, BlackSalt, Republic or Pearl Dive and are craving oysters, don't get too caught up in the exotic oysters available that you overlook the incomparable delicacies freshly harvested right in your backyard.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Something Fishy Happening in Southwest Virginia

Rolling hills backdropped by beautiful mountains that give a blue light during sunset.  Tumbling pastures where cows graze and horses frolic.  Sounds like the perfect place to find Florida's number one selling fish, at least one it's most highly sought after, right?  Well maybe not to you, but the good people at Virginia Cobia Farms will beg to differ.

Located in scenic Saltville, Virgina, Virginia Cobia Farms has begun producing beautiful pompano for commercial sale.  Known for their work with Cobia which has earned nods from Monterey Bay Aquarium as a "best choice" for sustainability, the farm has now turned its sights on the troubled pompano and is raising them in the same sustainable manner.  The future of fish farming is here, nestled in the sublime mountains of western Virginia.

The farm uses an indoor recirculating tank to grow out their fish, which they raise from eggs.  The fish are purged for an extended amount of time to avoid any off flavors that are usually attributed to farm raised fish.  Once the fish are harvested they are iced, gilled, and gutted.  Usually they wind up to the customer within 24 hours, making this fish fresher than most.  If you compare it to a wild fish that is caught, brought in, auctioned, then shipped, these pompano are a couple of days ahead of the game.

It is also very important to note that these pompano are fed an aquafeed that is developed in-house; that's right Virginia Cobia Farms has developed their own feed.  Less than 1 pound of feed goes into the process to produce 1 pound of pompano.  That ratio is a win for the pompano and the environment. You don't have to worry about any waste ruining Saltville's Tumbling Creek or local trout either, the recirculating tank prevents escapees and the waste is repurposed for fertilizer.

These fish are swimming in on the wave of the future, the future of our healthy oceans and fish stocks.  Farming can be argued as the practice that saved the human race and helped proliferate it.  Without good farmers feeding the world there is no way we could have survived and prospered for this long.  Without good farmers, fish farmers specifically, our wild fish stocks and oceans will not survive.  I welcome you to visit the BlackSalt Fish Market and get a glimpse of the future.  A Florida Pompano born and raised in Virginia.  Years ago I would have been laughed at for saying such a thing.  Now, feeding our growing population a healthy protein that is good for them and the environment might just depend on it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Check Out Skuna Bay

There's a new salmon at BlackSalt Fish Market.  It's farmed, it's from Canada, and it tastes clean and delightful.  It's from a company called Skuna Bay and it's very limited - only available on Fridays at the moment.  Oh, and it's the only salmon company in the world that has multiple farms awarded with the Best Aquaculture Practices certification by the Global Aquaculture Alliance.  The GAA review process includes audits on a company's social responsibility, food safety, animal welfare, and traceability programs.   

Skuna Bay farm harvests their fish without relying on the environmental burdens created by industrial methods.  They believe in small densities and round the clock care.  There are only a handful of people who are trained for the duties of selecting and harvesting fish.  This is a hands-on job that requires skill and diligent inspection.  

Located in the ocean fed, cold waters of British Columbia, Skuna Bay boasts stocking densities that are lower than other salmon farms.  The salmon selection process is a tedious one, but one that ensures that each fish is delivered with the highest of quality seals.  The fish are harvested only a few at a time with small seines that ensure that the fish are not over stressed.  They are then hand bled and processed before reaching rigor.  That allows for the fish to retain its firm flesh without any tearing of the meat.  Each fish is then scrutinized for its quality and usually only %6 of all fish harvested are given the label of Skuna Bay.  That's right.  Not all fish earn the right to be labeled Skuna Bay.  Your fish is selected from many by the producer at the farm.  It is then packed in a recyclable carton and shipped.  

It is widely reported that in just a few short years the majority of seafood consumed will come from aquaculture.  The wild stocks will reach a balance and harvest will abate to sustainable levels.  Farm raised seafood is the answer to feed a growing population with a growing appetite for healthy protein.  I have mentioned before that not all farms are created equal.  Skuna Bay is one of those farms who is trying to do the right thing and harvest fish with the bigger picture in mind.  You can taste the difference in their salmon.  You can taste the care they put into growing them.  This attention to detail, maintaining a focus on quality of product and environment, means more to the world's kitchen table than just producing and consuming; it makes all the difference for the future of our oceans' health. 

Click here to learn more about Skuna Bay.