About a week or so ago I had the privilege of joining a group of 8 led by Jeff Northrop Senior and Junior for a newly created Oyster Farm Tour on the family-owned Hummock Island in Westport, Connecticut. An oyster lover myself, I couldn't pass up this opportunity. I've only recently come to truly appreciate just how delicious those are in our own backyard.
We gathered in front of Elvira's, a small deli, where we met Jeff Sr. who took us over to the island. The adventure began when we climbed into the boat. The ride itself, less than 10 minutes, set the tone for the rest of the evening to come. It was one that was both informative and yet casual and relaxing.
As we motored across Sherwood Mill Pond we learned a little bit about the surrounding waters. We saw the oyster cages all lined up and learned that each cage houses roughly 1000 oysters. These farmed bivalves feed off of the algae which occurs naturally in the pond waters. Oysters get the nutrients from the algae by filtering the water through their gills. Because of this, and because there are so many oysters in the Mill Pond, the water is significantly cleaner than even the Long Island Sound. For more on what oysters eat hop on over to In a Half Shell, a wonderful website dedicated entirely to oysters.
Once we got to Hummock Island guests settled into Adirondack chairs on the porch while Jeff Senior told us of the history of oystering in Connecticut and how the company came to be. It all began 1741 when the pond was awarded as a grant from the British King and a hundred or so years later a house was erected on the tiny island which would serve as a residence for the “oyster guard” who kept watch over the surrounding waters. The farm is still family run by Jeff Northrop Sr. and was most recently joined by son Jeff Jr. who left a career in finance to help his father with the business.
Westport-based Hummock Island Oyster Company has long been known for their outstanding oysters and their clients are indeed impressive ones with distribution in New York, Boston and Pennsylvania. Upscale local restaurants such as The Whelk and Pearl at Longshore get their oysters from Hummock Island. The highly acclaimed Blue Hill Farm relies on Hummock Island exclusively.
While "dad" took on the role of historian, "son" was shucking away on the other end of the porch, halving the oysters for us to taste. Jeff Jr. Showed us how to properly shuck an oyster and walked us through the tasting. There were no accoutrements - no lemon, mignonette or cocktail sauce - to top them off with and so what one tastes is the natural salinity of the water in which they live and the briny, sweetness of the meats themselves.
The experience is family friendly and exciting for adults and children of all ages. In fact, children are encouraged to attend, and those under 12 are free with a paying adult.
Nutritional Benefits of Raw Oysters
I wondered after eating what seemed to be an endless amount, whether one could eat too many of these delicious bivalves. And then I decided that the answer was no! In fact, the nutritional benefits are many. A single serving has about 5 grams of protein and about 2 grams of carbohydrates. They're also high in calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin B-12, as well as zinc and iron.
Oyster cages and tumblers help to sort oysters, separating them by size, eliminating those too small and helping to distribute nutrients. This ensures that the best possible products are being delivered to restaurants and distributors. Thanks to modern technology, their farming process is smarter and more sustainable, something which is of great importance to the Northrop family.
Unlike many other oyster farms, no additives are added to Hummock Island oyster cages. Their tidal gates allow for over 2.5 million cubic meters of fresh, nutrient-rich water to enter the pond where shallow waters create the perfect environment for cultivating firm white meats, beautiful shell formation, and an intimate merroir.
While we were there 2 blue crabs and several small fish found themselves among the oysters in a cage and Jeff Jr released them back into the pond. It was amusing to watch them scamper off the deck sideways directly towards the water. They needed no help with directions!
I recently spoke with Jeff Jr. and asked about the inspiration behind these newly-created tours. "We wanted to be able to offer the community something completely different; to provide an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience that's engaging, informative and fun. We also want to be able to share this indescribably special place that's right in everyone's backyard."
Having had the incredible opportunity to visit Hummock Island myself I can attest to the fact that the experience truly is one that is magical and unforgettable.
Artists and photographers take note! The setting on Hummock Island, especially at sunset is pure magic. We caught the most spectacular lighting as light and shadows shifted over the course of the evening. In addition to delicious oysters, you'll be inspired to paint or take pictures! See below.
Hummock Island Oyster Farm Tour Takeaways and Tips
Tour Schedule (Approx an hour and a half):
- Our time was leisurely and unrushed as we toured the small island, learned the lores of the oyster business and the house on the island. The tour was informative and entertaining.
- Parking is indeed a challenge.
Those from Westport can find limited on-street parking (with proof of residency) and those from surrounding areas and out of town can temporarily park at the site of the former Positano Restaurant. You'll meet at Elvira's, a small deli. There you can load up on water and snacks and use the bathrooms as there are none on the island. You'll walk across the street to Tide Gates at Old Mill where you'll hop on a boat which will take you over to Sherwood Mill Pond to Hummock Island. During the busy summer months consider using Uber or having someone drop you off.
- Arrive a few minutes early.
Because parking is a challenge and because you don't want to keep everyone waiting.
- In case of inclement weather a rain date will be offered.
- Dress comfortably and sensibly and for the weather.
In the spring and fall evenings can get chilly. Wear sweaters and bring jackets. Sunglasses are a good idea.
- Wear boots or shoes that can get wet.
- Bring your own snacks to enjoy with the oysters.
Crackers and cheese, wine and champagne are popular choices.
- Make sure your phones are fully charge.
You WILL want to take pictures
- Photographers, bring your cameras and any additional lenses you may want.
- Artists, brings your sketchbooks, pens and pencils
For more information and to book your own tour visit their website here, http://www.hummockisland.com/
Thank you Northrops, for an absolutely wonderful and unforgettable experience!