Porlock is experiencing a foodie renaissance thanks to a community-led project to revive a tradition that once thrived here in the 1800s, by farming oysters in the bay. Harvesting native oysters died out in the 1890s due to overfishing but Porlock Bay Oysters are now back on the menu.
A team of volunteers coordinated by Tim Edwards and his daughter Fiona, have introduced Pacific oysters for a more sustainable supply of restaurant quality oysters all year round. In just a few years since the project's inception, Porlock Bay oysters are attracting the attention of top chefs, the Food Standards Agency and consumers alike, for all the right reasons.
Mike Lynch, the treasurer of Porlock Bay Oysters said: “The community has really got behind this project. It began in 2013 to increase employment, raise the profile of Porlock and generate additional income for the village. It’s achieved all these things, while producing a world class product that's now available for commercial wholesale in the region.”
The water quality at Porlock is excellent and the Food Standards Agency has given Porlock Bay Oysters a grade A food classification rating, making them among the purest available.
“They’re pacific oysters, which do not have a breeding season, so they’re available all year round and are more robust than the native oyster.”
This puts paid to the myth that oysters should only be consumed during the months with an ‘R’.
They begin life at the nursery site in the Avon estuary in South Devon, where the calm waters are more suitable to the delicate seeds and there's plentiful nutrients in the water to support the growing phase of the oyster. When they reach a good size, they are moved to Porlock for the final stage of their growing cycle. It is here they take on their Porlock taste from the purification of the water and the exposure to the harsh conditions of the Bristol Channel as they reach maturity.
After harvesting, they are given the all clear from any harmful bacteria in the depuration lab just yards from the oyster beds before being delivered to market. If you're lucky, you can eat them on site at The Harbour Gallery and Café, where they all agree that a simple splash of lemon juice is all that's required to bring out the best taste in the oysters.
The team are limited to working just a few days a month to get access to the oyster beds due to the tidal range, so when you see them on the menu at a local restaurant, you know they’re as fresh as can be.