The Tarbouriech Special

By | Category: Travel destinations
pink Tarbouriech Oysters from the Mediterraneanrs

pink Tarbouriech oysters

The “Etang de Thau” is a long lagoon of the Mediterranean Sea, stretching between Sète and Agde, close to the long sandy beaches of the French coast. If you’re staying in Palavas-les-Flots, Cap d’Agde, the Grande-Motte or the Grau-du-Roi you will easily and quickly get to this preserved area where thousands of birds find here peaceful places to breed in an unspoiled nature. The lagoon also is a major oyster production site in France with 13,000 tonnes of oysters grown every year (90% of French Mediterranean oysters and 10% of all French oysters). For decades now farmers have grown oysters and mussels and achieving that through respect for nature and this unique and beautiful area.

oysters raised out of the water to mimic tidal flows

the oysters “sunbathing” as man adjusts growth to mimic the fall and rise of the Atlantic tides

Florent Tarbouriech grows oysters in the Thau lagoon and for years he did it the way his father did before him. He and others produce the Mediterranean oyster called Bouzigues. But when he tried to persuade Michelin starred chefs to add his oysters to their menus a few years ago, he was told that his oysters were too salty and too soft in spite of their unique taste.

Clearly stung by this rebuff this resourceful man wondered why oysters grown on the Atlantic seashore were worthy of these chefs but not his own. His competences were in no way called into question and he suddenly realised that the main difference between Mediterranean and Atlantic oyster farms was the tidal range. On the French Mediterranean coasts the difference in height between the low and the high tide is almost imperceptible (on average only 40 centimetres or about 16 inches) whereas this difference reaches several metres on the Atlantic coasts (as high 14 metres or about 46 feet in the Bay of Mont St-Michel during the equinox tides!). Due to this natural phenomenon the Atlantic oyster beds are alternately immersed in water or exposed to the open air twice a day and the oysters react to these difficult conditions by strengthening the muscle that keeps the bivalve shell tightly shut.

young oysters

young oysters in their baskets

Tarbouriech immediately decided to get his oysters on the same kind of training! It took him two years to develop a totally innovative process that recreates subtle tidal cycles. First the baby oysters are put into closed metallic baskets to start their growth. Once big enough (approximately 3 cm) the baskets are stuck three by three on long ropes that hung from long horizontal poles. These poles rotate in order to wind and unwind the ropes thus immersing the oysters into the water or taking them out of it. This patented system works with solar or wind energy. The frequency and duration of these artificial “tides” are computer-calculated depending on seasons, weather forecasts and the maturity of the oysters. The complexities of all this is a closely guarded secret.

terrace for oyster tasting whilst overlooking the lagoon

the terrace where more and more tourists come to sit and taste the oysters

The results exceeded his expectation and the new oysters called Tarbouriech Specials (and also pink oysters) are twice as full and fleshy than the original Bouzigues and have an inimitable hazelnut taste. The crunchy muscle and the soft, pink-coloured flesh give a perfect balance in the mouth with a sweet-iodized flavour. No need to say that, today, Michelin starred chefs serve this luxury oyster in their restaurants!

These oysters are highly successful and, in spite of their high price they are getting more and more popular and…imitated. In 2007 when Tarbouriech started his precursory works he suffered strong criticism by the other oyster farmers working in the Thau Lagoon. Today there are 30 oyster farms trying to produce the same kind of oysters… But not quite the same!

a plate of Tarbouriech Special Oysters

and this is why the visitors come – to taste a plate of Tarbouriech special oysters

Today he works with his son, Romain and daughter, Florie. Onboard their “oyster boat” you can take a tour of the oyster beds as Romain provides a commentary and shares his passion for his work. A few years ago they opened a tasting bar, The St Barth, where you can taste these unique oysters as well as other shellfish grown in the farm such as mussels and clams.  Here, the price of one single, pink, Tarnbouriech oyster is between £2 and £2.50 so imagine the price for a dozen in a top-class restaurant.  They even serve hot oysters, a special dish made with six-year old oysters.

Getting there is easy. From Montpellier airport or railway station, it’s only a 40 min drive to Marseillan, where the Tarbouriech oyster beds are. Marseillan is a lovely resort surrounded by vineyards (a local glass of white wine perfectly accompanies an oyster tasting)  with a long sandy beach, set between Agde and Séte. Originally it was a port created by the Romans who were already very fond of oysters.

It is no coincidence that growing oysters is a long lasting tradition on the beautiful Thau Lagoon and whilst oysters taste like this, it will continue to attract more and more visitors.






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