The delicate art of opening oysters

Tifenn Yvon remembers her first encounter with oysters perfectly. She was then a 13-year-old teenager, who had come from Reunion Island to spend the Christmas holidays with her Parisian grandparents. On the table, there are these funny stone-headed seafood that the whole family gets excited about. But she pulls back. “It disgusted me to eat a raw, living animal filled with sea watershe remembers. I didn’t even take any that day, I didn’t feel concerned. For me, it was an adult thing. »

Today, Tifenn Yvon is 52 years old and, in front of her, on the table in her living room with mango-colored walls, there are her own oysters. Shellfish that she raised with her husband, Jean-Noël Yvon, 64 years old, son and grandson of oyster farmers, who created the company Les Huîtres de Listrec in Brittany. Their house stands, with a small building for processing and sorting seafood, facing the Ria d’Etel, a river in Morbihan which flows about ten kilometers further into the Atlantic Ocean. That morning, the panorama was unreal. Under a bright white sun, mist settled on the channel. And if, on the wave, a barge, the long, flat boat that the couple uses to transport oysters, did not paddle, it would be impossible to see the horizon. The water and the sky merge into a cottony gray-blue, crossed by egrets.

For Tifenn Yvon, who became an oyster farmer in her forties, repugnance finally turned into passion, and into a profession. But can we really learn, like her, to love oysters? The answer should interest many gourmets, and even some gastronomic journalists, who have a stubborn distaste for the bivalve.

In the words of Irish writer Jonathan Swift: “He is very bold, he who was the first to eat an oyster. » It takes courage to start tasting the sea creature. The recalcitrants evoke pell-mell the slap of iodine, this brutal kiss given to the ocean, perhaps the only ingestion evoking drowning; the texture, often soft, sometimes viscous, of the mollusk. Not to mention the appearance for some of spit, or even of a cold gray vulva with wavy fringes. And what about the myth that accompanies this seafood, reputed to be able to go up the throats of gourmands? False, obviously! As much as its supposedly aphrodisiac virtues.

Oyster farmers Tifenn and Jean-Noël Yvon, on the Listrec oyster production site, upstream of the Etel estuary (Morbihan), January 30, 2024.

Added to this are other more concrete reluctances. Oysters have been particularly affected by inflation: according to INSEE, their price increased by 15% in the fall of 2022 compared to the previous year. Many consumers also fear getting sick. During the last end-of-year holidays, the norovirus, which affected oysters from the Arcachon basin (Gironde) as well as part of those from Calvados and Manche, created concern throughout of the territory. “If we relied on social networks, we had the feeling that eating an oyster was life-threatening!annoys Jean-Noël Yvon, who has strived to reassure his customers for several weeks. However, health regulations have continued to tighten, and regular analyzes are carried out on sites and sales networks. »

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