Local oysters rule supreme at the 2013 Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival

By Edward Chamberlain-Bell

Oysters are the delicacy of choice for gourmands, romantics, and those who appreciate the finer things in life. And with the 2013 Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival coming up between 28 June and 7 July, Festival Manager Nicci Rousseau-Schmidt takes a look at the festival’s most honoured “guests” – the oysters.

“Knysna has long been synonymous with oysters and they remain the main feature at the festival. As always festival goers will be challenged to take part in the oyster shucking and oyster eating competitions, but the best way to savour the versatility of our oysters will be to attend the Pick n Pay Flavours of Knysna,” Rousseau-Schmidt said.

“This event invites restaurants in and around Knysna to showcase their talents by presenting their best oyster dishes to the judges and public. It’s a firm favourite, with oysters prepared according to a variety of unique and often innovative recipes. Festival-goers can sample oysters – cooked and au natural – at designated Oyster Hotspot restaurants throughout the festival.”

“We have two delicious varieties of oyster on offer,” Rousseau-Schmidt said. “There is the cultivated oyster which is farmed, in part, right here in the world famous Knysna estuary and then there is the wild, coastal variety that grows along our coastline. Due to the immense demand during the festival, we also import oysters from Saldanha Bay and Port Elizabeth.”

But while oysters remain the VIP’s at the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival, locals and visitors alike enjoy these delectable morsels throughout the year.

“Knysna has a long history of oyster farming with the first experiments with cultivated oysters having started in 1946,” she explained. “In 1948 a joint venture between the Fisheries Development Corporation and Thesen & Co. gave birth to the Knysna Oyster Company. The company’s first employee, a Dutch farmer, began experimenting with methods developed in Holland, utilising oysters imported from Portugal, Australia and Britain and oyster beds made of roofing tiles.”

“Production finally took off in the 1970s when the Pacific Oyster or Crassostrea gigas was found to be perfectly suited to the South African market in terms of growth rate and taste and today the Knysna Oyster Company farms four hectares of our estuary.”

“But these oysters are extremely well travelled,” said Rousseau-Schmidt, “once an oyster larva attaches itself to the substrate, it is called a ‘spat’. Spats are imported from France and Chile and, at approximately three months old, begin their South African residency at a nursery in Algoa Bay. Once they’ve outgrown the nursery they are transferred to the Knysna estuary.

“Here they enjoy a healthy childhood inside fine mesh bags that are attached to racks within the intertidal zone,” Rousseau-Schmidt explained. “They grow strong shells as they are thinned out and turned on a regular basis and continue to grow as they are placed in larger bags, facilitating feeding and water flow.

“These healthy youngsters spend their last three months increasing their flesh to shell ratio and preparing for their big debut on plates in Knysna, around South Africa and even abroad.

“But the real treasures are the indigenous, wild, coastal oysters found in abundance not only along the coastline’s intertidal zone, but also in deeper – yet dive-able waters,” she continued, “Crassostrea margaritacea, are large, fleshy, best eaten raw with a bit of black pepper and lemon juice, and have a distinctly different deliciousness about them.”

“Oyster pickers obtain licences from Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) and sell their fresh pickings to the Knysna Oyster Company and local restaurants. MCM also regulates this sustainable industry,” Rousseau-Schmidt said.”

“As oysters are a delicacy requiring special care to deliver the best taste experience, Doctor Ingo Vennemann has again joined the team as an independent health consultant and, along with Assistant Head of Municipal Health Services for the Eden District Municipality James McCarthy and his team, the festival and participating restaurants are working together in a co-ordinated effort to ensure that everyone enjoys only the best that our oysters have to offer,” Rousseau-Schmidt assured.

“Casanova may have believed that oysters stimulated more than just the gastric juices, and we have to agree as these morish morsels are sure to once again make the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival more than just South Africa’s largest lifestyle, sporting and family event,” said Rousseau-Schmidt.

Bronwen Rohland Marketing Director of Pick n Pay said, “The Knysna Oyster Festival is one of the highlights of the social calendar in South Africa. With its mix of food, family fun, and sporting activities it really provides the opportunity for the whole family to enjoy a spectacular winter break. Pick n Pay will be showcasing our journey towards goodness at the festival. We look forward to welcoming visitors to the festival.”

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