Pleasure House Oyster Tour — Let the Adventure Begin
I’m not a lover of the oyster — especially oysters raw on the half shell. I know plenty of people love them, and they wax poetic of the nectar (the juice) and the terroir — oysters are often described the same way that fine wines are.
I do like oysters Rockefeller however, the richness of the meat covered in garlic, cheese and herbs yummy!
Today’s adventure was all about the raw oyster, and since they’ll be served fresh straight out of the water, I thought that I would challenge myself to finally eat one.
The introduction to our oyster farm adventure started with two words “safety and fun” as Captain Chris Ludford and first mate Ty started the boat, and we set sail for our Pleasure House Oyster Tour.
If you are going to do an oyster farm tour and learn all about oysters, then you have to seek out an authority who is passionate about the subject.
Captain Chris is just the person for the job.
To see the glint in his eyes and the smile on his face as he spoke about his beloved oyster farm was intoxicating.
A third-generation Virginia “waterman”, safety is a top priority for Captain Chris especially since he is also a volunteer firefighter on a fireboat.
“Oyster reefs are the basis of life…” explained Captain Chris as he showed us the reefs and sustainability of the molluscs are of highest concern on his farm.
Restaurants save and collect the discarded shells by the bucketful for recycling, and the shards get spread out onto the reef to “grow” and replenish the oyster reefs for the future.
When I asked which type of oyster — wild or farmed — were better to eat, Captain Chris’ reply was simple, “Farm-raised oysters are best to eat as we should try to protect the wild ones. The taste of both is the same, but we’re working to make the river and Bay a better place for future generations.”
The mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and ocean is the perfect environment for oyster farming. The dead oysters are the white shells on the top of the reefs and the dark ones on the bottom are alive.
A tour of an oyster farm is not purely about the oyster. There is nature all around us; sightings of egrets, marsh hens, ospreys, herons, bald eagles, seagulls, fiddler crabs, and blue crabs are plenty.
The Pleasure House Oyster Farm
The boutique farm harvests 12,000 to 15,000 oysters per week — the oysters are grown for quality and taste versus quantity.
An oyster starts out from the hatchery the size of the nail on your pinky finger and 18 months later is the size of a 3-inch oyster.
As Captain Chris explained, their goal is to harvest the oysters within 18 months to two years. Their target is a 3-inch oyster with a deep cup with a thicker shell — so that it looks great when presented on a plate.
The oyster on the left is an 18-month farm raised oyster that is ready-to-serve. On the right are 5 to 7-year-old wild oysters.
The staff work daily from 5 am to 2 pm sorting the oysters by hand and separating them by size into the various cages.
Davis, Zack, and Kyle hard at work.
Lynnhaven Oysters — The Taste?
Captain Lee, a retired civil servant and fourth-generation Virginia Beach Waterman says he is “working the best job ever” at the Lynnhaven Oyster Farm, he quickly gets to work shucking oysters for us as we surround the makeshift table standing in the river.
Let me start by confessing that I didn’t eat one — I know, I know, calm down all you oyster lovers! I just couldn’t do it. But when I consulted with my friends as to what they thought about the Lynnhaven oyster they said between oohs, ahhs and slurps that they tasted sweet, grassy and lightly salted with a very clean finish.
I never did eat a raw oyster on the half shell while standing knee deep in the Chesapeake Bay but I did get a new appreciation for oyster farmers after hearing of their passion and love of the “pearls of the ocean”. It was a great morning out on the water, and I learned a lot about the Chesapeake Bay and the history of the oyster farmers in Virginia in general — a great adventure and something that I highly recommend to all foodies and oyster lovers.
The next time you’re looking at a restaurant menu in Virginia Beach and see the words “Lynnhaven oysters” I hope you give them a try.
- Water shoes are available, but you may prefer to bring your own.
- Wear shorts as you’ll be standing in the water.
- Best to go hands-free, the mud is slippery, and it’s easy to lose your balance.(You many leave belongings on the boat.)
- Best time to tour is September and October.
- Tours take place year round and are all custom built based on the customer’s interest level.
- Tours are family-friendly. Capt. Chris may even bring his children along to help.
- Tour start time is based around the tide patterns (low /high tide) and change daily.
- 2-hour Tasting Tour
- 4-hour Waterman Tour. You get the authentic waterman experience by gearing up and getting down and dirty harvesting and sorting the oysters.
- 3-4 hour Chefs Table Tour. 4-course tapas menu is served at the farm as you stand in the water.
Are you an Oyster Lover? Share your oyster experience with us?
For more Oyster Experiences check out the Virginia Oyster Trail.