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Tassie's Gems of the Sea

August 27, 2015
Tassie's Gems of the Sea

Oysters and abalone.

If you’re a lover of all things seafood, then chances are these two words have your immediate attention.

And not surprising – we’re talking about two of the most precious, most delectable, most coveted delicacies from the sea. This is why when we heard about Barilla Bay Seafood and Candy Abalone’s Tours in Hobart, Tassie, we were all ears. And taste buds.

Barilla Bay Seafood farms Pacific Oysters; it’s their speciality and something on which the business was founded some 40 years ago (the past five of which it has been owned by a collective of local families).

At Barilla Bay you get the whole works – the farming and processing operations, an oyster shop, a restaurant showcasing oysters and, of course, the joint tours.

Learning how to shuck an oyster

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When it comes to regaling yourself in oysters, there are few better places to visit than Tassie, Australia’s most southern island state renowned for its pristine landscape and waters. It’s this unspoiled environment that makes for the perfect oyster farming – oysters are a direct function of their habitat so where there are beautiful clean waters, there are sure to be the most wonderful oysters.

Barilla Bay offers a combination of waters – shallow, deep and pure deep – that produce two distinct lines of oysters; one with estuarine tones (influenced by the freshwaters in the area) and the other a much saltier flavour thanks to the sea.

various oyster and dressing combinations

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A little known fact about oysters is that they are the ultimate water filterers. Put them in dirty water and be amazed as, sometime after, that same fluid will have been washed clean by a hard-working oyster.

Folklore has it that Tassie’s oyster population is the result of Japanese migrants who came to the island after World War II. Upon arrival in Australia it was thought the oysters had died, and so they were thrown into the water and forgotten about. Ten years later and those same waters were rampant with these taste sensations. And we’re all the happier for it!

Japan has also played a significant role in the development of Tassie’s dried abalone industry. Following the tsunami and subsequent radiation leaks, Japan’s abalone harvesting was decimated. Although the Japanese themselves didn’t have a strong need for dried abalone, elsewhere in Asia it was and still is considered one of the most lauded and finest foods on the planet. It’s a hot commodity. Candy Abalone saw the opening niche and decided they were best placed to help supply the world’s demand.

Candy abalone

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Dried abalone is a particularly involved product. It’s harvested wild by divers working under Candy Abalone’s licence. These licences make hen’s teeth look commonplace – there are only 125 of them in Tassie. Once abalone is harvested it goes through a top-secret drying process that takes several months. The result is a sugary product with an incredible shelf life – like a fine bottle of wine, Candy Abalone just keeps getting better with age. To use Candy Abalone in cooking, it must first be rehydrated for four days (changing the water each day) and then braised in a stock (the recipe for which varies considerably from chef to chef and appears as top secret as the actual drying process) for 24 hours. The cost is approximately $1,500.00 per dried kilo.

Candy Abalone rehydrated

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That doesn’t allow much room at all for a culinary mishap…

Not that this should happen if you take a Tour at the Barilla Bay and Candy Abalone Interpretation Centre. The experience gives visitors time with business owners and/or key staff to learn about the processes and operations in place for farming this primary produce, to see these systems in place, to get preparation/cooking ideas and inspiration, and to finish with a much-anticipated taste test.

And if you’re keen to find a pearl or two, don’t hold your breath. According to Barilla Bay, Pacific Oysters don’t grow pearls – maybe one in 100,000 – and when they do they’re insignificant and not even worth the time it takes to extract them. Oh well – it was worth asking the question for us all, just in case…!

Barilla Bay Oysters Shucked

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