Tasty, tiny oysters are the ultimate fancy party food. On ice-heaped platters, they perch like jewels and are easily and quickly slurped down in one sexy, salty, creamy mouthful. But the lovely morsels served at your local oyster bar weren't always the norm. Back in 2000, the Beausoleil cocktail oyster, a dark, thin-shelled rebel from New Brunswick, revolutionized a global industry.
At the time, oysters were a commodity product, sold by the gallon and grown as large as possible. "The industry was coming out of an entirely different era. Hardcore oyster eaters, even if they were eating on the [raw] half-shell, wanted big oysters," says Rowan Jacobsen, the Vermont-based author of The Essential Oyster and A Geography of Oysters. "Beausoleil were visionaries, because the entire market has come to them."
When co-owner Amédée Savoie and his business partners first shipped samples of their "cocktail" oysters, one American seafood agent said he wouldn't be able to sell them. This past winter, the company moved half a million oysters in a single week, and sold about 800 tonnes this past year.
Based in windswept eastern New Brunswick, Beausoleils are slowly grown for four to five years by hundreds of contracted producers living in small communities along the rocky coast. Jacobsen claims Beausoleil's clean taste and consistency makes them the best choice for newbies. "They're always nicely salty, and have what I've described as a champagne, yeasty, biscuit quality," he says.
Visitors to New Brunswick can find these babies at restaurants across the province, including 1809 Restaurant & Bar in Miramichi, Fredericton's Wolastoq Wharf, Billy's Seafood in Saint John, Moncton's Pumphouse Restaurant, Déjà Bu! in Caraquet, and Le Up'n Down Resto-Bar in Tracadie. For pairing, Savoie suggests chablis, muscadet or even a frosty beer, but agrees that champagne is always a safe – and glamourous – bet.
For more information, visit http://www.maisonbeausoleil.ca/.