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: Willapa Bay, Washington
Taste: "A clean yet meaty taste," Daffin says, "with a cucumber-melon finish."
Why they're special: These Japanese imports are grown in floating bags rolled by the tides, which constantly chips the shells' growing edge like a rock tumbler. It may sound gimmicky, but it grows a deeper cup — "a plump, hearty oyster," says Daffin, "with a strong adductor muscle to hold in its light brine liquor."
Order from: When Shigoku are harvested, Taylor Shellfish Farms sells out before it can even list them online, but it will take phone orders when they're available [$50 for 60; 360-432-3300]