Growing Places with Ben Gonzalez and Dave Daly of Southold Bay Oysters

Q: What made you want to get into the oyster business?

A: After we purchased a home on the North Fork we decided we wanted to live here full time.

We got tired of the long commutes on the LIRR or the Jitney every Friday and Saturday just to stay for the weekend. So in 2015 we moved out East to start Southold Bay Oysters, with the hopes of eventually making it a commercial oyster farm. Once we settled in Southold, our time was filled with finding a boat, acquiring equipment, and researching as much as we could about this new unpredictable world of oysters.

Q: Did you have any aquaculture background before this?

A: Dave joined the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk Project in Aquaculture Training (SPAT) a few years ago as a hobby to learn how to grow oysters. We started with a few hundred in floating bags and after two years of tending them we had our first harvest and began shucking for our family and friends.

We received our first batch of commercial baby oysters in 2016. We had no idea what to expect. Do we bring big containers to pick up all the seed? Do we count the tens of thousands of baby oysters? We ended up receiving them multiple receptacles, each one as big as a yogurt container. We thought “Wow, we need to grow these babies.”

Q: Has the community of growers been helpful to you getting started?

A: In 2015 when we left the city what did we know about oysters? At first not much. Most of the process was figured out along the way with the helpful advice of other local oyster growers. We thank everyone in the aquaculture community.

Q: Where do you guys grow / farm?

A: Our oyster farm is in Southold Bay in water that averages 16 feet deep. We have a 10-acre aquaculture site through the Suffolk County Aquaculture Lease Program. Our oysters love the water of Southold Bay. To be honest, they have not said it. Even though we talk to the oysters, up to now they have not talked back.

Q: Maybe they need more time to come out of their shell(s). Is Southold Bay a good place to be growing them?

A: Oysters grow based on a mathematical equation. G = A x F. In plain English, Growth = Algae x Flow (water flow). Southold Bay enjoys water flow from the Atlantic Ocean, East of us. Believe me, we have FLOW! As of today, our oysters are devouring algae and filtering thousands of gallons of water in Southold Bay.

Q: Last week you mentioned “merroir” as similar to the aquaculture version of “terroir” – care to elaborate?

A: Oyster’s flavor and “finishing touches” can be attributed more to their local habitat than to the species. In this sense, oysters are much like fine wine.

The Eastern or Atlantic Oyster is indigenous to North America, and grown on the east coast. It is the only oyster allowed to be farmed on the east coast. So, similar to a merlot grape, all East Coast oysters start as the same species but take on the characteristics of their environment to create unique characteristics. It is a good practice for oyster lovers to learn about the farm and the characteristics of the water where their favorite oysters are growing.

Q: So given that line of thinking and the fact that you guys travel a lot, I’d imagine you’ve tasted some interesting shellfish along the way…

A: This past September we paid a visit to the oyster region of Galway, Ireland. The area’s native oyster is the Ostrea Edulis. This oyster has a smooth, round (saucer-like), flat shell with a shallow cup and seaweed-green color. You need to be a true oyster lover to enjoy them as they have the boldest of flavors in the oyster kingdom. They have a meaty, almost crunchy texture, with an intense mineral bite up front, a potent seaweed flavor, and a long-lasting gamey finish. Eating an oyster is like kissing the sea…. eating a native Edulis is like kissing the bottom of your boat!

Q: What does SBO have planned for the future?

A: We are doing multiple Pop Up Oyster Raw Bars around the North Fork this summer, and also the North Fork Foodie Tour on September 10. We call our oysters Southold Shindigs. Eventually we would like to start selling them wholesale as well.

Learn more at www.southoldbayoysters.com

Look for Southold Bay Oysters on Fridays at the Tap Room at Corey Creek  and September 10th at the North Fork Foodie Tour 

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