Chesapeake Bay Oysters Back from the Brink

Grilled Oysters with Mornay Sauce on Samphire

Two cousins from the Chesapeake Bay area of Virginia, Travis and Ryan Croxton, helped bring back the Rappahannock oyster from the brink of extinction.  In 2002 there were very few Chesapeake Bay oysters left, due to the way the oysters were grown and harvested. It became their mission to make sure that not just the Rappahannock oyster, but other ancient varieties from the Bay such as the , Stingrays, Snow Hills, Witch Duck, Barcat, and Olde Salts were also brought back from the brink.

A filet mignon is delicious but one steak tastes pretty much the same as the next. Not so with Bay oysters. Even though Bay oysters are essentially the same type of oyster, they take on a unique flavor of its own depending on the region where they were harvested (river, bay or ocean). The Croxton cousins refer to this distinction as ‘merroir’ after a similar concept in winemaking called, terroir.

The cousins resurrected their family business, Rappahannock River Oysters, after a 10-year hiatus in 2002. The company was first opened in 1899 by their great grandfather. Today, the cousins do things very differently. They no longer dredge and haul the river bottom which along with poor management had decimated Virginia’s oyster population.  Instead, they taught themselves responsible oyster farming. They farm oysters in the open waters where the oysters can breathe freely instead of suffocating in the mud. The result? A richer, cleaner, healthier – and much tastier oyster.

The cousins not only supply restaurants with the oysters, but they have opened up a raw bar, restaurant and tasting bar. Now an entire generation of oyster-eaters can enjoy the special taste of the Rappahannock and other Chesapeake Bay area oysters. Whether they are slurped down naked or dressed up with a squeeze of fresh lemon or a little dab of cocktail sauce, one thing is for sure – you’ve just tasted goodness in its purest form.

As proud recipients of the 2005 Food & Wine Magazine “Tastemaker’s Award”, these cousins were celebrated as top young talents who’ve changed the world of food and wine by age 35. We think their grandfather would be very proud to know they resurrected the Rappahannock River Oysters Company and brought the almost extinct Rappahannock oyster back to a healthy population so that everyone can enjoy what many consider to be the greatest tasting oyster in the world .


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