Many countries produce lots of wonderful oysters. However, no country in the world can offer a more complete oyster experience than France. Is it because French oysters always taste better than, for instance, American, British, Irish or Canadian oysters? No. The difference is that you’re getting a French oyster in France, which means that it is served up along with a boat load of savoir vivre, backed by lots of cultivation savoir faire and national pride, all in a setting of immense cultural wealth. Regardless of how good or bad the service might be, no doubt ever exists in the mind of the French person serving you that you should feel privileged to be served the finest oysters in the world.
France and oysters go way back. Since Roman times, the coast of France has been the place of choice where prime oysters can be found. In modern times, France was the first country in Europe to start cultivating oysters on a large scale. It’s called “L’ostriculture” and, in turn, the growers are referred to as “Ostriculteurs” or “Parqueurs”. The oyster business is taken very seriously by growers, marine biologists (IFREMER), and ultimately by French connoisseurs.
France controls more than 2,000 miles of coastline, featuring some of the finest oyster beds in the world. In 2005, approximately 3,400 French oyster growers produced an estimated 518 million Euros worth in sales. From North to South there are seven distinct growing regions: Normandy, North-Brittany, South-Brittany, West-Central, Marennes-Olron, Arcachon, and the Mediterranean. Although some of these areas are far more famous than others, they all produce excellent oysters.
In the 19th century, there were three oyster capitals in the world: Paris, London and New York. Although fabulous oysters are still served in London and New York, these two grand cities have since lost their prestigious titles as oyster capitals of the world. Paris has not. To this day, this city offers countless opportunities to enjoy oysters, be it in restaurants or from a side walk vendor. Generally, dry white wine or Champagne is suggested as an accompaniment. The classics in Paris are oysters from legendary French oyster cultivation areas such as Cancale, Marennes- Olron and Arcachon.
The coast of France also offers fantastic oyster experiences. Virtually anywhere along the French coastline (including the Mediterranean) delicious oysters are served. Quite “naturellement”, the locals in these areas praise their local oysters as the non plus ultra in taste. Usually a particular local wine is recommended by the host in order to properly optimize both the taste of the oyster as well as the “terroir experience” overall. Much like French wine growing areas, oyster cultivation areas are often informally referred to as “crus”. The best part about the French coast is, however, the price of oysters.
France produces about 130,000 to 145,000 metric tons of Pacific oysters (Crassostrea Gigas) annually. Additionally the French produce about 1,000 to 3,000 metric tons of European oysters (Ostrea Edulis).
As oysters go, the French have long been the undisputed leader in all of Europe. Not only do the French produce the lion share of the oysters in Europe, they are also their own best customers. More than 90% of the oysters produced in France are consumed by the French. The French oyster business traditionally starts booming between Christmas and New Year’s Day. About 50% of the annual oyster production is consumed during this time.