Maine’s seafood industry has seen a boost in the last few years with the rise of Maine oysters. The oyster takes on something special when grown in the cold, brackish waters of the state’s estuaries.
Like a fine wine, oysters get most of their flavor from their home turf. But it isn’t just the coastal waters that make Maine oysters special.
Come along as we get our hands dirty and explore the terroir of oysters from The Pine Tree State.
Let’s get digging!
What Are Maine Oysters?
From the coast of Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, one species of oyster dominates the market. The common Eastern Oyster makes up the majority of oysters sold in the United States. Each varietal gets its name the harvest location, but they’re all the same species. The cold waters of Maine give the oysters harvested there a firm texture and salty flavor.
Until the 1990s, Maine oysters were something of a legend. While the estuaries in this northern state seemed like the perfect environment for oysters, none existed. Then, anthropologists discovered piles of shells, called middens, on the banks of the Damariscotta River. Evidence shows that early Mainers ate oysters by the thousands.
Things changed with pollution and climate change affecting the breeding grounds of Maine oysters. So in the 1990s, a couple of scientists decided to try and reintroduce Eastern Oysters to the region. A few families leased land from the state along the Damariscotta River and tested out the hypothesis that the waters could support oysters.
Today, farmers harvest over 3 million oysters from the river’s waters. Protected from the coast’s strong tides, the river’s jagged fingers provide perfect oyster beds. Flavors vary among the different oyster beds, with the briny Pemaquid Point contrasting with the North Haven Islands’ sweetness.
Why Are Maine Oysters So Delicious?
Oysters are bivalve mollusks and take on the flavor of the water they live in. Since the Damariscotta River is an estuary, the cold, salty waters of the Atlantic Ocean mix with fresh water from inland. Oysters from farms here get the best of both worlds; flavors of the sea and flavors of the land.
Another factor in the flavor of Maine oysters is the length of time from seed to harvest. Oysters in the state’s cold waters take up to three years to reach maturity. In that time, they develop a depth of flavor that warm water oysters can’t touch.
The texture is different, too, partially because of the cooler waters. Firm and plump, these are the oysters to spend a little extra on.
Pro Tip: Use our guide on How to Spend a Day in Machias, Maine.
Where Is the Oyster Capital of Maine?
Out of the 150 oyster farms in Maine, the Damariscotta River region is home to most of them. In fact, over 80% of the oysters harvested in Maine come from the area and are considered the best in the state. Widely known as the Napa Valley of oysters, the Damariscotta River estuary has the state’s oldest operating farms.
The world-class reputation of oysters from the twelve-mile stretch from the town of Damariscotta to the Atlantic is well earned. An eleven-foot tidal flow brings the ocean into the estuary and ensures a well-flavored product.
Damariscotta is, hands down, the oyster capital of Maine.
What Is the Maine Oyster Trail?
The Maine Oyster Trail is an excellent resource connecting over 80 businesses that either harvest or serve the shelled delicacy. Founded in 2017 to bring awareness to the growing oyster industry, their new website helps plan trips for visitors. Just a few clicks and you’ve got an itinerary and map tailored just for you.
There’s also something we think is a lot of fun, the oyster passport. You earn Maine Oyster Trail swag as you visit businesses on the trail and collect points. Beyond just checking in, challenges along the way make collecting points a game.
If the game means eating oysters, we think everyone wins.
Pro-Tip: Learn all about the oysters from various regions in the state and plan your trip on the Maine Oyster Trail website.
Where Can You Order Maine Oysters With Overnight Shipping?
The best way to experience Maine Oysters if you aren’t in the region may come as a surprise; mail order. Ordering directly from the grower means ensuring top quality and freshness get delivered to you. Here are a few that offer shipping.
Maine Oyster Company
With over 30 farms on its site, the Maine Oyster Company has an incredible selection available. They offer various packages that include 50 to 100 oysters, along with a few perks. You can also get lobster, shucking knives, and custom sauces added to your order.
Damariscotta oysters are featured, but they represent a wide range of growing regions. They also sell osetra caviar, so if you want a special night to remember, they’ll set you up!
Orders are shipped overnight, and the Maine Oyster Company guarantees the fastest “Farm to Slurp” out there.
SoPo Seafood, based in the Biddeford Seafood Market, has a smaller offering of oysters on their site. They’ve got three specific regions listed and sell a variety pack with all three included. SoPo also has a caviar and uni combo that’s sure to please.
Alongside their oysters, they have a wide array of other seafood available. You’ll find what you need here: shellfish, oysters, smoked, and sushi-grade fish. And they’ve got great reviews, so you know you’re in good hands.
Browne Trading Company
Browne Trading Company has many of the same offerings the others featured here do, but they have something special. They offer Maine Belon oysters on their menu, one of the few wild-harvested products. These oysters are known for their creamy flavor and sweet finish. Good raw or cooked, they are a unique delicacy.
They also offer a range of seafood products for overnight delivery, something you’ll want to take advantage of when the craving hits. For folks living far away from the coast, online is the best option for your planned oyster night.
Pro Tip: Foodies will love eating at these 7 Most Unique Restaurants in the USA.
An East Coast Delicacy
If you love oysters, you’ve got to get your hands on this east coast specialty. Briny and sweet, Maine Oysters are a special treat and reason enough to visit this northeast destination. Make sure to plan your trip with the Maine Oyster Trail site so you can hit as many spots as possible. From the Damariscotta River south, oysters take Maine seafood to the next level.
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