Right now it's probably better known as being the "Granite State." In the future, however, New Hampshire may be regaled as the "Oyster State" for being one of the East Coast's better oyster appellations, with selections rivaling the popularity of Wellfleet and Blue Point. New Hampshire has only recently begun offering oysters commercially, the first coming on line in 2005 with a production of about 20,000 oysters. Today there are about 12 leases along the coast and of these, only 6 are currently producing enough product to harvest commercially.
As far as getting the oysters out of the state and into a spot in the rotation at reputable oyster bars along the coast, we have Taylor Lobster Company to thank. Taylor Lobster Company is owned by Bret Taylor and has roots in the lobstering industry dating back to 1945. Though established in the lobstering business, Taylor is responsible for distributing about 86% of the entire New Hampshire oyster production. Last year production from the entire state only amounted to about 100,000 oysters, which is about as much as an established farm produces in a week. This makes New Hampshire oysters a rarity and typically Taylor doesn't sell the precious bi-valves to more than one establishment per state. There just isn't enough inventory yet to go around.
Available varieties include Moose Cove, Wagon Hill, Fat Dog and Little Grizzlies, all out of Great Bay, New Hampshire. Moose Coves are grown by Jay Baker and tend to have a sweet, melon finish. Wagon Hill oysters get their name from a historic wagon located on a hill near the University of New Hampshire. The Fat Dog label affectionately references the owner's "fat Labrador Retriever." Ray Grizzle, a professor of Aquaculture at the University of New Hampshire, owns Little Grizzlies whose namesake is evident.
Though limited in production, these oysters are not limited in flavor. Each variety differs, as we all know that locations separated by only a few meters can offer incredibly different merroirs, but there are some common characteristics you can expect from New Hampshire oysters. Typically they range in size from 2 1/2 inches to 3 1/2 inches and the shells are light colored, deep and very strong. The meats are plump and full, with an al dente texture in the fall months. Winter comes quickly in New Hampshire and often the water will freeze over, halting production very early in the season. Each oyster variety differs in salinity level, but all are well balanced with an above average brine. Flavor subtleties can range from sweet to clam-like to melon to seaweed, but you are just going to have to taste them all yourself to pick your favorite.
Now you know that if you are lucky enough to see NH listed as the origin of an oyster during your next visit at your local bi-valve hangout, it's not a misprint. You should also be mindful that these oysters are not easy to come across and you would be unwise to pass up the chance to taste such a distinctive, gratifying bite. New Hampshire oysters are officially on the scene. Consider yourself warned, New England! There's a new guy on the block and he is tasty.