The Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group will be offering treats from Island waters at the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust's Taste of the Vineyard gourmet stroll this Thursday night. They'll have a booth featuring their flavorful Island-cultured oysters. This year, strollers will be able to compare oysters cultured in Menemsha Pond and oysters raised in Katama Bay.
For the first time, the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah is also participating in the gourmet stroll, offering their Tomahawk oysters, first spawned at the tribe's new solar shellfish hatchery two years ago and raised to maturity in Menemsha Pond.
"You don't get any more indigenous than local oysters," said Rick Karney, director of the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group. Mr. Karney and his colleagues have been proud supporters of the Taste of the Vineyard.
Oysters are a big item coming from the Island's waterfront. The Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group is an Island nonprofit organization committed to helping Island towns raise shellfish. Through federal grants they were able to help a small crew of Islanders step into aquaculture and begin raising shellfish.
Mr. Karney served as a mentor to these sea farmers, and their success continues. The oysters from Katama Bay are cultivated by Jack Blake, Scott Castro and Roy Scheffer. Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall will be serving quahaugs that were first spawned at the shellfish group's solar hatchery on Lagoon Pond and then seeded in Edgartown.
Mr. Karney said: "We started this whole idea of being at the Taste of the Vineyard to promote cultured shellfish. The word has gotten out that there is an Island oyster in season." Prior to the advent of the Island-cultured oyster, if a consumer wanted to eat an oyster at this time of year, they'd get a product that was most likely raised in Canada or Maine. Wild oysters are not in season now, but cultured oysters can be brought to market any time. "The Taste of the Vineyard has helped us get the word out. People try them at the Taste and they ask for them at fish markets," Mr. Karney said.
This year's newest arrival represents a big step on the part of the Wampanoag Tribe. The Tomahawk oyster is for the first time coming to this important fundraiser for the Preservation Trust.
Rob Garrison, manager of the Wampanoag Shellfish Hatchery, has been volunteering as a shucker at Mr. Karney's shellfish clam bar for the last two years. For the first time, he is bringing his own product. "I can tell you right now our oysters are saltier. We have a higher salinity," Mr. Garrison said, comparing his oysters from Menemsha Pond to those raised in Katama Bay.
Mr. Garrison began marketing his oysters in April, although last fall he did sell a few.
"Right now our plan is to be up to 10,000 oysters per week by the fall," Mr. Garrison said. Mr. Garrison will have a staff of seven people helping with the operation this summer. Ariana Feldberg runs the hatchery while David Vanderhoop runs the field operation.
Mr. Karney hopes to be able to offer visitors to the shellfish group booth a chance to taste oysters from both pond and bay. With cultured oysters being developed on the Island for the first time, Mr. Karney believes there is plenty of room for growth. Emmett Carroll, a Chilmark lobster fisherman, has stepped into raising cultured oysters, too.
Mr. Karney sees the shellfish group offering a new oyster next year. His assistant, Amandine Surier, has brought forward the triploid oyster, which will likely be marketed next year. The triploid oyster has an extra chromosome and is sterile. That oyster is expected to be meatier.
Among the other genuinely indigenous products offered at the Taste of the Vineyard, one Island beer will be available.
Offshore Amber Ale will be available for the first time in bottles. Bob Skydell of Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs started making this beer last September. His head brewer is Michael Steinberg. He has been making beer since 1997. What sets this beer apart from is others has a lot to do with glass and marketing. Mr. Skydell's amber ale is available in bottles here and on the mainland. The beer can be bought in Northampton and at Legal Seafoods in Boston.
Mr. Skydell's beer is made on the Island. "Oak Bluffs water is excellent brewing water. It is very soft. The mineral content is ideally suited for making beer," Mr. Skydell said. As for the other contents of beer, Mr. Skydell said they are experimenting with growing hops on the Island to see if it would work.
Mr. Skydell said he likes having his beer at the Taste of the Vineyard for the same reason that Mr. Karney likes to share his oysters. "We'd like to think they already know what we do. People are often shocked to find out that we make beer and we've been doing it for seven years."
Other participants offering real Vineyard food at the Taste of the Vineyard include the Black Dog Bakery. Pastry baker Karen Werth will be putting together a variety of dessert-oriented fare.
Daniel Larsen of Edgartown Seafood will be offering a variety of seafood dishes, much of the ingredients coming from other places.
Chris Scott, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust, said yesterday that he expects all the 500 tickets to be sold out for the Thursday afternoon stroll by the end of business today. There are 75 exhibitors, some of them new, a few more than last year.