Oysters: A French and Sonoma Obsession
The history of the Oysters in France and the best places to get fresh Oysters in the Bay Area: Tomales Bay Oyster Company, Hog Island Oyster Co and The Marshall Store
The French are very passionate about their oysters as we are here in California. They have been producing oysters since Roman times and France was the first country in all of Europe to start cultivating oysters on a large scale. It is called “L’ostriculture" and the production of oysters here is taken very seriously by growers, marine biologist and connoisseurs alike. There are more than 2,000 miles of coastline in France that contain some of the finest oyster beds in the world. Be sure to order them the next time you are in Paris!
The history of oysters in California dates back 7,000 years to when Native Americans in the coastal parts of the Bay Area ate shellfish and used the shells as currency, jewelry and tools. Over the years oysters remained abundant, but it wasn’t until the Gold Rush that the demand for oysters really took off and people began bringing in Olympia oysters from Willapa Bay and Puget Sound in Washington, and planting them in the Central Bay close to San Francisco’s markets.
The production of oysters in the San Francisco Bay was short-lived because of pollution and the presence of salmonella in the bay and so operations moved north to Drakes and Tomales Bay in the early 1900’s where presently they grow the most delicious oysters we’ve ever tasted. A few of our favorite oyster houses are Tomales Bay Oyster Company, Hog Island Oyster Co and The Marshall Store.
Tomales Bay Oyster Company
Established in 1909, Tomales Bay Oyster Company is California’s oldest continuously run shellfish farm. A casual spot right on the bay, they are open Friday afternoon and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm. Sadly, there is no longer any picnicking on site, but it’s still a wonderful and historic location to purchase your oysters to take them home fresh or picnic at a nearby beach. Armed with a picnic basket and a cooler, you can head to the local beaches and parks to shuck and enjoy your fresh oysters. Some of our favorites include: Heart’s Desire State Beach at Tomales Bay State Park, Stinson Beach and Doran Regional Park in Bodega Bay.
Hog Island Oyster Company
Hog Island Oyster Company is located in Marshall just 30-40 minutes from Sonoma. It is the most picturesque setting right on Tomales Bay. The Boat Oyster Bar sits right near the water and they serve raw and BBQ oysters, local breads, cheeses and drinks. It is such a lively setting and the communal picnic tables encourage people to talk to new friends and share secret mignonette recipes; you are always guaranteed a good time!
The Marshall Store
The Marshall Store is part of the Marshall Oyster Company. It is in a charming seaside shack with a wrap around deck. You order inside at the bar and sit out on a very long wood table out in the open Tamales Bay air. The oysters are divine and on a recent visit my son and I accidentally ordered 100 oysters (one bag) to go and we ate them all in one sitting. They have an amazing selection of wines that you can buy by the bottle and the additional menu has selections like shrimp cocktail and clam chowder that is to die for.
We are big oyster fans at Chateau Sonoma and always carry oyster related items. We discovered and carry the most amazing oyster shucking tool by the French company Opinel and currently have have the book “Oysters: A Celebration in the Raw” that is quite interesting.
Oysters have such a rich history, both locally and in France, and we are so lucky to have such an incredible selection of oyster houses so close to Chateau Sonoma. Now is a perfect time to set out on an oyster excursion because there are not too many tourists in town this time of year and you’re guaranteed a great seat!