Even more than wine and cheese, oysters draw their flavor from their environment. "The same oyster will taste completely different depending on where it grows, tidal flow, water salinity, and food source," says Robert Daffin, who shucked his first oyster at age eight and has won shucking championships in Alabama, Louisiana, and his native Florida. The 200 different North American appellations (all high in zinc, the source of oysters' legendary aphrodisiac power) are a testament to that varied environment. "I get people who say they only want West or East Coast oysters," Daffin says. "Personally, I like to try everything." Here are his top six.
Grown in: Totten Inlet, Puget Sound, Washington
Taste: "A light brine with a citrusy metallic finish. It has a taste all its own," says Daffin. "No other oyster can be compared to it."
Why they're special: The only true native West Coast oyster, Olympias once ranged from Alaska down to Southern California, but pollution and overharvesting depleted them to near extinction by the 1930s. Now recovered, they remain rare and difficult to farm: As even the adults are not much larger than a bottle cap, the oysters must still be harvested by hand at low tide.
Order from: Taylor Shellfish Farms [$7.50 per dozen; taylorshellfishfarms.com]
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