Wine connoisseurs talk about the power of terroir, the natural elements of a particular vineyard. Oyster lovers cite a similar influence on the taste of their chosen delicacy. It’s “merroir,” says John Brawley, an oyster farmer on Massachusetts’ Duxbury Bay, and the nomenclature is no joke.
“It has to do with the specific characteristics of the body of water and the watershed,” he says. “We have lots of tidal flushing, like Wellfleet, with a 10-foot tide on average, so it’s clean water and somewhat briny because of that big exchange with the ocean.”
Working in waders on a November morning, Brawley (GRS’92) pulls out his new oyster knife and wriggles the point into the hinge of a freshly dredged oyster, popping it open. The glistening white meat all but fills its half shell.
He is dumping crates of cockled bivalves onto a battered table in the center of his wooden work hut, which floats a quarter mile offshore. Seaweed, razor
clams, and flailing spider crabs are tossed overboard, while the oysters are sorted by size. Later he’ll bag them for sale under his Sweet Sound brand.
“These are regulars,” he says as he sorts. “These are jumbos. These are returns, too small or too skinny or too bent up. I can put them back for a while, and they might straighten out a bit.”