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Taylor Shellfish: Part 2

It's all about the merroir

If you've dabbled in wine education, it doesn't take long to stumble upon the term terroir. That's a French word to describe all the aspects of a growing region that make up the character of the grapes grown there. Soil, weather, temperature. It all creates the terroir.

There is a similar term to note water environments. Merroir, a much less frequently used term, can help you understand the flavor and texture complexities of most shellfish grown anywhere. But it begins with the surrounding terroir.

Let's assume you are about to eat a clam grown in the South Puget Sound in proximity to the Nisqually River. You might have dug it up yourself at the Nisqually National Wildlife refuge, or you may have lucked into some shopping at Taylor Shellfish Company. Before you take that first bite, consider the following.

The type of dirt that washes into the lower Puget Sound comes from the Nisqually River, which originates on the face of Mt. Rainier. So surely, it's going to carry a lot of minerality that comes from the ancient volcano.

You could also note that the water in the lower Puget Sound is warmer than, say, the Hood Canal or around Whidbey Island, sometimes 5-10 degrees warmer. Shellfish raised in warmer waters will have a different texture than those raised in colder water. Or as Bill Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Company puts it, "Shellfish raised in colder water are firmer. It's like lettuce - they have more crunch to them."

So now that you've bitten into that sweet soft clam, let's head over to Hood Canal and try one there.

Hood Canal gets most of its water from the Olympic Peninsula. There's quite a bit more basic gravel in the sediment there. And, as noted, the water is colder. You may notice your clam here has a bit more rigid flavor to it and a lot more crunch.

The beauty of Taylor Shellfish Company is that they own farms up and down the entire west coast of the US and Canada, and in Hawaii. That means you can get quite a variety of shellfish to A/B taste test by shopping at one of their retail locations, or visiting one of the many restaurants that provide a rotating cavalcade of the delectables in-house.

Public clamming and shellfish hunting is limited to a few summer months. But for a company like Taylor, they can grow all year long. Bill is a fan of shellfish harvested during colder months, and it's those pesky summer months when things like red tide can shut down farms and public access. In some cases, Taylor simply doesn't grow in certain areas during the summer months.

It's not easy getting juveniles started when the water is cold in the winter. To make that happen, Taylor has nurseries in California and Hawaii. Once the juveniles are old enough, they are shipped to the Northwest where they can bear the colder temps and are raised on shelves in their farming areas.

You'll note that you never actually see a farm situated at the mouth of an estuary. There's too much that can go wrong with water quality, so most farms you'll see around the Puget Sound are located away from those types of outlets. Think Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, the west side of Bainbridge Island or Willapa Bay.

So, are you ready to take shellfish field trip and compare the merroirs? Have fun.

Tom Mehren/March 2017

Taylor Shellfish Farms
Oyster Bars
Capitol Hill
1521 Melrose Ave
Seattle, WA 98151
(206) 501-4321

Pioneer Square
410 Occidental Ave
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 501-4060

Queen Anne
124 Republican Street
Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 501-4442

Bellevue coming soon

Shellfish Markets
2182 Chuckanut Drive
Bow, WA 98232
(360) 766-6002

130 SE Lynch Rd
Shelton, WA 98584
(360) 432-3300

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