With 40 million oysters sold last year, Virginia is the largest producer of farm-raised and wild oysters in the U.S. The diversity of oysters found in rivers and creeks along the Chesapeake Bay contributes to Virginia’s reputation as the oyster capital of the east coast.
Virginia waterways and oysters are grouped into eight distinctive regions — based on their location, coastal habitats, and taste — which forms the Virginia Oyster Trail.
From the briny oysters cultivated in the salty waters of the seaside (known as Region 1) and the Tidewater region (known as Region 7) in the southern part of the Bay to the creamy, sweet oysters in the upper Bay, the Virginia Oyster Trail showcases the diversity of the state’s waterways.
This weekend, April 1 and 2, the Wine & Brine Lounge will feature plump, sweet oysters from the Fat ‘n Happy Oyster Company on Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Headquartered in the town of Heathsville, VA, about 90 miles east-northeast of Richmond, Fat ‘n Happy Oyster company was founded in 2009 by local charter boat captain Danny Crabbe. Born and raised in the small town of Ophelia in the Northern Neck, Crabbe is a third-generation waterman who started working on local waterways alongside his father when he was 8-years-old.
In addition to operating a charter fishing business, Crabbe cultivates ‘Fat ‘n Happy’ oysters in the Little Wicomico River. Located in Region 4 of the Virginia Oyster Trail, on the northwestern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, the Little Wicomico River stretches nine miles along the Virginia-Maryland boundary and meets the Bay adjacent to the mouth of the Potomac River.
Crabbe is one of a growing number of oysterman to cultivate ‘triploid’ oysters. According to statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), triploids made up about 90% of new oyster cultivation in recent years.
Triploid oysters are sterile and continue to grow in the summer months while traditional diploid oysters are spawning (which tends to cause loss of meat weight).
Triploids grow faster and remain plump and firm year-round, which is why Crabbe named his oysters ‘Fat ‘n Happy’ because they are ‘fat and happy’ year round.
Crabbe sources triploid oyster ‘seed’ in late spring and early summer from local Virginia hatcheries and cultivates them in mesh bags until they are about one inch in length. The oysters are then transferred to oyster cages and are carefully cultivated in the Little Wicomico River for 15 - 18 months until ready for market. Throughout the cultivation process, Crabbe tumbles his oysters several times to ensure they form deep cups.
Like all Virginia oysters, Fat ‘n Happy oysters from the Little Wicomico River tell a story of their ‘place.’ Salinity levels of the Little Wicomico River range between 10 - 17 parts per thousand (or 1 to 1.7% salt) and the oysters in this region tend to be creamy, sweet, slightly briny with hints of minerality.
The sweet, creamy and slightly minerally Fat ‘n Happy oysters would pair perfectly with a glass (or two) of the newly released 2015 Vintage Reserve Chardonnay or the Acte 12 Chardonnay.
Visitors to the Wine and Brine Lounge this weekend will be in for a shucking treat; Deborah Pratt, national and international oyster shucking champion, will join Captain Crabbe this weekend.