Magazine article Sunset

Land of the Perfect Oyster?

Magazine article Sunset

Land of the Perfect Oyster?

Article excerpt

Some folks swear by Quilcene ...

... Others say it's Oysterville

* Pacific oysters are prolific throughout coastal Washington, but they really seem to thrive on Hood Canal, especially in Quilcene and Dabob bays at the canal's northern end.

This is not just my opinion. Two of the biggest shellfish companies in the world, Coast Seafoods and Taylor United, have oyster hatcheries here. They know that Dabob Bay is one of only three places on the West Coast where an oyster farmer can reliably collect wild oyster seed.

Jeffrey Delia and Kirk Lakenes know this, too. But unlike Coast and Taylor, which breed oyster larvae in a lab and farm thousands of acres of tidelands to produce millions of oysters per year, their companies, Delia's Broadspit Oyster Company and Lakenes's Hood Canal Seafood, cultivate mere handfuls of acres each.

"The waters here are clean and cold, producing a sweet-tasting oyster," says Delia. "To me, it's the last holdout," he adds, referring to both his home and his oysterman lifestyle.

The late Robert Canterbury Sr., the man most people credit with putting Quilcene oysters on the map, also liked to call what he did for a living a lifestyle. For decades, he harvested oysters on 50 acres of Quilcene Bay tidelands down at the end of Linger Longer Road.

From the beginning, the name was synonymous with an oyster of exceptional quality. Canterbury Quilcenes were served in the finest restaurants of the day, from Jake's in Portland (still going strong) to Rosellini's legendary Other Place in Seattle. Canterbury copyrighted the family name, and for a while some people thought a Canterbury was actually a species of oyster.

Like Canterbury, Delia has made his contribution to the oyster lexicon. Delia started farming oysters about 21 years ago; 16 years ago, he started selling his oysters as Quilcenes, even though his tidelands are actually on Dabob Bay. The name stuck.

"In reality, it's not true," says Canterbury's son, Ray, "but the bays are very similar. It would probably take a scientist to tell the difference between the oysters. The word Quilcene sells." Still.

Delia's Quilcene oysters are available from all fishmongers at Seattle's Pike Place Market. Lakenes's oysters can be bought at Hood Canal Seafood Marketplace in Quilcene, open 10-9 daily in summer. …

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