What's In A Name?
The last five years has brought a large proliferation of Oysters to the market. Where as the menu of a few years ago was lucky to include the ubiquitous "Blue Point" the menus of today offer a range of oyster varieties. With the popularity of Oyster Bars, it is not unusual to see as many as 20 different oysters offered to the discriminating consumer. Oyster varieties such as the Quilcene, Hog Island, Malpeque and Kumamoto have all but become house hold names and now even more recognizable to the under 30 crowd than the Beatles.
But where do all these oysters come from? When did oysters start competing with Wines as to the length of the menu dedicated to them?
Back in the mid seventies when fresh shucked oysters were an oddity on most menus, especially those not located near by the sea, we were pretty much stuck with "Blue Points". Even in Seattle where Pacific oysters were being raised in large quantities, it was rare to see a local oyster on the menu. If you were lucky enough to live in Maryland, Florida or Long Island, New York, your taste buds were treated to local delicacies such as the Chincoteague, Shinnecock or Apalachicola but those oysters rarely made it out of the county. Then in 1977, a small oyster farm called Pigeon Point decided to raise the Pacific oyster for the half shell trade. That began the stampede. Since then, the number of oyster farms on the west coast dedicated to raising half shell oysters has kept pace with the number of wineries in Napa producing Chardonnay.
Originally when we first started raising the half shell pacific oysters, we didn't know what name to sell them under. The entire staff at Pigeon Point was brought together and instructed to come up with a marketing name for our farm raised, half shell, pacific oysters. When that task proved too daunting for us mere biologists, a high-powered marketing consultant was brought in. This in the days when no one even knew what a "consultant" was. All kinds of names where thrown on the table including "West Point", the Pacific Coast answer to the Blue Point." The one suggestion put forth by the biologist; why not call the oyster the "Pigeon Point"? This was ruled totally unacceptable by the high-powered, very expensive marketing consultant. "Ah, Pigeon Point Oysters will make the customers think of Pigeon crap" said the highly paid, very well dressed consultant. So it came to pass that the first pacific oyster being raised specifically for the half shell trade was to be called the "Rocky Point Oyster" as it was quite rocky out there at Pigeon Point& and a new oyster was born.
One thing the high powered, expensive, well dressed marketing consultant didn"t do before cashing his five figure payment for services was making sure that no one else had the name Rocky Point Oyster registered. Eventually, once the Rocky Point name hit the market place, we were issued a cease and desist order from the "Rock Point Oyster Co." in Samish Bay, Washington, an oyster farm in business since the early 1900's that saw to registrating their name. So the $50,000 Rocky Point Oyster became the now infamous Pigeon Point oyster and not once has someone mentioned bird crap.