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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

Nature Always Intervenes

Leaving a lavish party in Bordeaux the night before, we got spur of the moment instructions to meet a man on Cap Ferret in the Bassin d’Arcachon. We only had his name, but were told anyone will know him. Driving just less than an hour southwest of Bordeaux we arrived in Arcachon and parked the car at the ferry dock….and were making our way across bay.

As we arrived in Cap Ferret on this very small pier, a tall, salt and peppered curly hair gentleman who was coming towards us – friendly, even jovial introduced himself as Joel Dupuch, oysterman. Turns out he is a famous French actor as well! We got a whirlwind tour of the sandy lane enclave, talking to everyone we passed, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he were the mayor as well.

He even took us knee deep into the oyster beds right along the pier explaining with passion how he tends his bivalves with patience and care, but in fact says he is just a farmer and at the whims of Mother Nature. He explains it as a life determined by the tides and the sea. He says you become extraordinary observant of your environment, the wind direction, color of the water, and smell of the sea.

An oyster starts its life the size of a peppercorn and is continually turned, touched and moved from bag to bag as it goes along the journey to the table. An oyster takes less than a minute to eat, but the oyster farmer has worked about four years on that one tasty morsel. It seems that every day finds the farmers gathering for that French Fraternite eating oyster fresh from the sea. That day I sat and ate oysters three times. Perhaps my favorite was eating a plate with my sandy toes in the grass alongside the sea. Or perhaps it was with the farmers gathering, it’s hard to decide.

One thing I can say is that I LOVE oysters – in any variety or variation. There is another side to oysters, besides being delicious, they are super low in calories, six oysters are only 45 calories! Plus loaded with excellent nutrients including protein, healthy fats, and vitamins. Just think 100% of your daily vitamin B12, zinc, iron and copper and over 75% of your daily selenium and vitamin D.

Mother Nature does have a dark side, any farmer will tell you that. For the oyster farmer there have always been plagues of bacteria killing off the oyster. The oysters so loved by King Louis are no longer here. In 1853 some ailment killed off the oysters, and again in the 1920’s a disease hit the flat oysters, farmers replaced them with the cupped Portuguese. Then they succumbed in the 1960s, thus the Pacific oyster was introduced. In 2013 a bacteria affected all the babies. Scientists have been scrambling to solve the mysteries of the pathogens as there are no consistent patterns. France’s oyster industry is estimated at $520 million!!

Researcher are trying to solve the very complex problems and keep one step ahead. In vulnerable oysters, the virus replicates and weakens the immune system within 24 to 48 hours. After that, it takes less than another day for the bacteria to finish off the bivalves. Quelle Tragique! Oysters are one of the most important group of species for global aquaculture with more than 600,000 tons are produced each year. See Mother Nature can be vicious!

But a few days on Cap Ferret staying at La Maison du Bassin with sand in your toes and plump oysters on a picnic table can make you forget any of the nasty thoughts of oysters’ demise. No need for glamour here, it has rustic charms with weathered houses and pine forests that are used as a breaker from the Atlantic Ocean. You walk everywhere as the sandy lanes aren’t wide enough for cars, you probably don’t even need shoes. My kind of place!

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