I was lucky enough to meet Scott Zahl and his girlfriend Patti Collins while watching some friends play in a bar during Western Days in Point Reyes Station. It was a totally chance meeting, one that led to me having the best oyster I have ever had AND finding the perfect source for Siren SeaSA’s shellfish. That was a great day, but more on that during oyster week!
Owner/operator Scott Zahl has been cultivating Mediterranean mussels and Pacific oysters here for over twenty-five years. The oyster and mussel beds are located along Highway 1 on Tomales Bay just outside of Marshall, CA. I had the privilege of visiting the farm with James Collier, the man responsible for the gorgeous photos, and his wife Kim.
First, a little background on our farmer.
Scott was raised in Hawaii and lived there until college. After five years in Santa Barbara and a degree in marine biology from UCSB, Scott moved to Tomales and began working for Tomales Bay Oyster Co. There was a change of ownership in the winter of 1983, and production was temporarily stopped. Scott and a partner decided to start out on their own and begin cultivating mussels. Scott described the early years as a lot of learning by trial and error. Cove Mussel Co. was one of the first in the area to attempt to grow mussels, and after you taste them, I think that you will agree that they were quite successful.
The mussels are Mediterranean mussels, brought to Tomales Bay on the hulls of trading ships. Scott gathers the seed mussels from Tomales Bay and transfers them to his farm.
The seed mussels start out very small and are ready for harvest in six months.
The mussels are grown in mesh bags that are placed high in the water column, thereby avoiding sand and grit. Scott spends a lot of time agitating the mussels. They like to be moved around a lot. They come out of the water meaty, tender, and delicious. Once removed from their mesh cage, they are immediately weighed and delivered.
Aren’t they lovely? They are certainly tasty.
BONUS: You can feel good about eating aquacultured mussels and oysters. Molluscan shellfish are filter feeders, meaning they actually clean the water. It is believed that the presence of oyster and mussel farms actually improves the conditions of the surrounding area. The water purifying properties of these shellfish has lead to strict monitoring of chemical and bacterial contamination in and around harvest areas. If Tomales Bay gets more than a half an inch of rain, the oyster and mussel farms do not harvest to prevent contaminants that may have washed down during the rain from entering the food supply.
I am so excited for you all to try these mussels! Scott and Patti are wonderful people who truly seem to love what they do. I hope that you all enjoy their hard work.