By Fred Delkin
This pensman was invited to a scene of a gourmet’s dream, staged by a NYC publicist on the scenic stage offered by The Chart House in Portland’s West Hills, overlooking the Willamette River, backdropped by Mt. Hood. We cannot think of any other natural comestible that ranks higher in our personal pantheon of tastes than the raw oyster, served on the half shell.
We first experienced this delight on the beach at my grandmother’s cabin on Washington’s Hood Canal, at our tender age of seven. We’ve harvested the bivalves growing wild on remote rock shelves while sailing British Columbia’s Inside Passage. We’ve slurped them in countless restaurants across our great land and savored their various forms (Pacific, Gulf, Kumamoto, Olympia, Belon).
The recent local enjoyment was billed as the 2012 Wine & Oyster Seminar and the teachers included winemakers from New Zealand, Italy and California and an owner of the Hama Hama Oyster Farm on our northern neighbor’s Hood Canal. Yes, true nirvana is achieved when you include wine with your oyster consumption. Which wines work best? The seminar included a Napa Girard Sauvignon Blanc, a pair of Barone northern Italy Pinot Grigios, a New Zealand Crossings label Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnays from New Zealand”s Crossings and California’s Girard Russian River Valley site.
Wine professors were Girard’s Marco DiGulio, Crossing’s Matthew Mitchell and Barone’s Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini. In our opinion the vino winner was clearly the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, closely followed by that land’s unoaked Chardonnay (we have a personal antipathy toward California winemakers’ fondness for aging their Chards in oak casks).
Oysters included Kumamoto, Olympia, Gulf and Pacific. Lissa James of the Hama Hama enterprise presented the best oysters, in two forms–a Pacific beach-raised at a river mouth and a Blue Pool Pacific offspring raised in a ‘Tumble farm’, baskets tethered to buoys that roll with the tides…the latter delivered a full, briny flavor that outpointed the other bivalve entrants that included Taylor Shellfish Farms’ Kumamotos and tiny native Olympias & Pacifics from Puget Sound’s Totten Inlet and a Gulf from an Alabama source.
Hama Hama’s James is a young, blond and vibrant spokesperson. You can enjoy her writing talents by visiting hamahamaoysters.com and clicking on the blog that is updated monthly and is adorned with her photos. She honed her writing communications skills at Vermont’s Middlebury College. Her farm site is on the east side of Hood Canal at the mouth of the Hama Hama River and almost directly across the Canal from where I first sampled a raw oyster. She is an outdoor enthusiast who frequently rides and hikes the Olympic National Park wilderness that rises behind her homesite near the village of Lilliwaup WA on U.S.highway 101 East bordering the Canal. Her brother Adam is in charge of oyster farming operations and you can credit his efforts in developing the unique Blue Pool varietal. His background includes guiding big game hunts in the Rockies and logging in western Washington. The Hama Hama firm was founded in 1922. Visit the firm’s website to order seafood delights on line.
We confess an affinity for the Hama Hama enterprise that stems from my nearby introduction to the glory of dining from the half shell, and the fact that I led my son and daughter on an arduous backpacking expedition to scatter my late father’s ashes on the Mt. Anderson glacier towering above the oyster farm’s site and is the source for the Hama Hama River.