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Shells Open for Ocean State Oyster Fest: The annual event returns to the river

On Saturday, October 8, the world can be your “oyster” if you visit the 8th annual Ocean State Oyster Festival. Take in the sights, eat some delicious oysters, maybe take a “shell-fie” or two. If you have “oyster” matters to attend to on that date, well it “shucks” to be you. I’ll “clam” up with the puns now, but the Ocean State Oyster Festival is a “pearl” of Rhode Island dining (sorry, I had to add one more).

“The (festival) is an event that calls out and celebrates local aquaculture in Rhode Island, specifically the Narragansett Bay,” said Frank Mullin, co-founder of the Ocean State Oyster Festival. “We get to celebrate the oyster farms within the bay with the entire event being all Rhode Island based.” There will be more than ten different farms participating at the event, shucking and selling their goods for the masses to sample. “Freshness is key,” Mullin laughed, “it’s all about the freshness, the proximity… the fact that some of these oysters will have been farmed that very morning or the day before.” As an added perk to the experience, patrons may get their oysters shucked by the very person that had harvested them. Patrons are encouraged to speak to these farmers and learn about the industry in addition to savoring the farmer’s crop. “It’s not common and what sets our festival apart from others is that the growers themselves are shucking for you,” Mullin added. Attendees normally feel compelled to ask questions due to the variety that is on display. “People enjoy getting to know the farmer and their methods on how it’s made, and even where they are from.”

Due to New England’s geology, oysters harvested in Rhode Island are unique and can vary further depending on how local farmers tend to their crops. Some have compared tasting oysters to sampling wines; both can give delicate notes of flavor and texture and the taste depends on a multitude of factors. Mullin explained, “You start to realize… the farms that are in salt pond or the breachway, over by the eastern part of the state, they all have a difference of salinities. Even the farming methods at these Rhode Island farms differ. Some of the farms have their oysters bottom dwelling. Some suspend the oysters at mid-depth. Some have them float, absorbing the top current. All of that affects the taste. Some can be more briny because of that, some are more tart, some are more buttery.” 

Mullin went on to say that the age of the oyster also can change how people enjoy them. Some people prefer the younger, bite-sized oyster and cannot eat the larger, older ones “that you can chew on,” as Mullin put it, or vice versa. Oyster connoisseurs and adventurous first-timers alike will find things to learn and things to taste, including some shellfish prepared in innovative ways. Find out which ones you enjoy, and all at one place!

If you are not a fan of oysters though, fear not! “Oysters are an acquired taste,” Mullin said. That’s why oysters are not the only thing attendees can enjoy at the festival. There will be Rhode Island based food trucks that sell burgers, tacos and other foods as well as beer and wine trucks. Trucks like RaRa’s, Sunset Farms and Shuckin’ Truck will be in attendance. Revival, Grey Sail and Whalers breweries will also be selling their craft beer. There will be local bands, musicians and DJ’s throughout the day and early evening. “This event celebrates all of Rhode Island. Having all Rhode Island businesses with Rhode Island entertainment… it’s Rhode Island centric really. It’s a really good food party” Mullin said. This event is for everyone,  oyster lovers or not. “If you’ve never tried an oyster, the festival provides a great context for others that do really enjoy them. Everything is super, super fresh and all your questions that you may have will be answered.” The Ocean State Oyster festival will take place on Saturday, October 8 at River Walk Park in PVD at 1pm. Tickets are $10 and will be available for purchase on their website, www.oysterfestri.com.

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