It’s National Oyster Day and what better place to crack, pry and slurp than San Diego County’s own oyster farm, the Carlsbad Aquafarm.
The farm is located on Carlsbad Boulevard, directly across the street from Carlsbad State Beach, and if you blink you might miss it. The farm shares a discrete, gated parking lot entrance with the Carlsbad Energy Center.
In fact, according to the Operations Manager at Carlsbad Aquafarm, Matthew Steinke, while the farm has been there since the 1950s, it wasn’t until the iconic smokestack was torn down that the farm was able to open to the public.
“When I first started here, I was like, ‘hey, why don’t we have a website? Why aren’t we advertising?,” said Steinke, explaining that the power plant security gate was up against the road and limited the people who could come onto the property. “And they’re like, ‘all that would happen is the phone would ring and we’d turn people away.”
Now, the farm hosts visitors for one-hour long tours. The first 30 minutes consists of education, seeing oysters at different stages of their life cycle, understanding the water purification process and the timeline from planting to consumption. Then, the last 30 minutes is spent learning how to shuck an oyster and, the most popular part, taste-testing with lemon wedges and hot sauce.
“I’m very passionate about what we do here,” said Steinke. “To be able to let people see where your food comes from, how it’s made and why it actually matters.”
The tour groups are typically no more than 16 people, and range from seasoned oyster-pros to first timers, hesitant to try the shellfish. Steinke understands not everyone might be a fan of oysters, but when it comes to giving it a try, he said these oysters are as good as it gets.
“[For] our 10 a.m. tour today, we pulled the oysters out of the water at 10:05, put them on ice and at 10:30, we pulled them off the ice and started opening and eating oysters that had only been out of the water for 25 minutes," said Steinke.
Oysters typically spend six to eight months in the ocean water, then they go through a depuration process and are ready to eat at around 11 months.
“It flushes out their stomachs, it flushes out their intestines, it gets all of the mud and muck out of the oyster,” said Steinke. “It gets it all out of their shell, so it leaves a very clean crisp oyster.”
Kevin and Kimberly Leong traveled from Orange County to visit the farm. Neither of them had much past experience with oysters, but they watched YouTube videos ahead of time to study up.
“I love oysters a little bit more after this experience,” laughed Kevin Leong, as his admitted he couldn’t recite all of the facts they learned, but that he would recommend the experience to others.
The Carlsbad Aquafarm oysters used to be sold to restaurants and other businesses, but since it has opened to the public, they began selling direct-to-consumer.
“There’s so much demand here, I didn’t have enough left to send to restaurants,” said Steinke.
Now, the only way to get the fresh, local oysters is to visit the farm and buy them after a tour or pre-order online.
“The next closest farm is 400-miles away, so making really high quality seafood and making it local, it’s just an amazing place to be,” beamed Steinke.