This article and map is from Laura Sant, and was originally in Virginia Living Magazine.
Virginia has eight officially recognized oyster regions scattered across its coastline, each with its own distinct flavor notes and characteristics. From briny seaside oysters to the sweet, plump bivalves of the Rappahannock, it’s possible to experience the full range of flavors by tasting your way through the state.
Oysters grown closest to the sea are high in brine, with a bold salty flavor and a mineral finish. Shooting Point Oyster Company’s salts, grown at the north end of Hog Island, are an excellent example of oysters from this region. Try them on the half-shell to fully appreciate their clean, briny liquor at Island House Restaurant in Wachapreague. ShootingPointOysters.com; TheIslandHouseRestaurant.com
2. Upper Bay Eastern Shore
Oysters grown on the upper end of the bay’s Eastern Shore boast a balanced salt content and a sweet, mineral finish. Shooting Point Oyster Company’s Bullseye oysters are a good example here; try them at Shagbark in Richmond. ShagbarkRVA.com
3. Lower Bay Eastern Shore
Moving down the Eastern Shore, oysters are sweeter and creamier, with slightly less salinity and a mellow finish. Ruby Salts, grown just outside Cape Charles, are a perfect example. Try them at the nearby Oyster Farm at Kings Creek in a rich Rockefeller preparation, broiled on the half shell with a rich buttery sauce, spinach, and cheese. RubySalts.com; TheOysterFarmAtKingsCreek.com
4. Upper Bay Western Shore
Farther into the bay, in the Northern Neck, oysters are fresh and sweet, like those from Bevans Oyster Company. Milder, less briny oysters take well to grilling, roasting, or even frying; try them fried crisp at Cockrell’s Creek Seafood & Deli in Reedville. BevansOyster.com
5. Middle Bay Western Shore
From the mouth of the Rappahannock down to mid-Mathews County, think mild, sweet oysters with a variable salinity based on where in the river they’re grown. Try Rappahannock Oyster Company’s Rappahannocks on the half shell or in the delightful Angels on Horseback at the company’s tasting room, Merroir, in Topping. RROysters.com
6. Lower Bay Western Shore
A mild saltiness and sweet finish characterize oysters grown in Mobjack Bay, which includes the mouth of the York River. Big Island Aquaculture’s oysters are grown in the waters surrounding Big Island. Try them at Riverwalk Restaurant in Yorktown. RiverwalkRestaurant.net
Pleasure House Oysters’ Lynnhavens are the best example of oysters from this area, which tend to be lightly salty with a sweet, smooth finish. Famous for their size and sweetness, Lynnhaven oysters were once prized by Native Americans, colonists, and European royalty alike. Try them at Commune in Virginia Beach. PleasureHouseOysters.com; CommuneVB.com
Oysters grown around the island tend to be small and sweet with a buttery finish. Tangier Island Oyster Company is the place to try them; you can buy them directly from the farm or at any Wegmans in Virginia. TangierOysterCo.com