Ostras de Cambados – oysters from Cambados, a small fishing port, near Pontevedra, north of Vigo, in the Galician corner of Spain are a well-known delicacy that has its aficionados all over the Iberian peninsula. According to some statistics about 95% of flat oysters consumed in Spain originate from the estuaries and bays around the village. However, these ones are the European flats, the Ostrea edulis, and indigenous species of the area, of which some have managed to survive the pests and diseases visited on its French counterparts, like the parasites of Marteilia refrigens and Bonamia ostreae, which have been hitting stocks since the 1970’s. Spain has been by far the biggest producer of flat oysters in Europe for the last decades, producing well over half of global yield and at the beginning of this century production in Galicia was just over 4500 metric tons, which had fallen to about 900 tonnes in 20121. But in comparison to other marine cultured species, the commercial yield of oysters has been microscopic. In the last forty years the number of enterprises working with oysters has decreased by more than 90% from around 900 to less than 80 farms. Most cultivation depends on wild seed populations but oyster spat, and small juvenile 12-18 months old oysters, are also being imported from other European countries, although apparently there are one or two hatcheries now trying to provide an alternative source of oyster spat for the farmers to grow. Rearing methods seem to be using either floating-raft culture or the more traditional rope suspension, although dredging wild brood-stock is also practised.
Besides, the region is also famous for its delicious Albariño wine and Cambados is also regarded as its capital or sanctuary even, where on the first Sunday of August every year the Albariño wine festival is held. It makes, of course, for a wonderful, fresh and natural combination with seafood and in particular with the native oysters, especially when well-chilled, on account of its crisp, acidic and aromatic taste. The air on these coastal slopes of the inlets (rías) is always moist and windy.
The shells are not large nor particularly heavy, suggesting a fairly rapid growth in the inlets fed by the strong Atlantic tides and currents as well as the freshwater streams running down from the hills around. Their bills are generally soft and flaky. Despite the shallowness of their shells these oysters pack a punch, not only in the sense of a compact, plump and fleshy content but also in the power and variety of their flavours.
They were all completely so different and individual, yet all meaty with a good chew! The colour of the meat was generally a darkish beige with a delicate, thin black rim of the mantle and the juice was clear and sea-fresh. One was so full of the salt of the sea as if plucked moments before from the water. Another left an almost mango sweet-sour aftertaste, whilst one offered an immediate overload of metallic stringency that almost eroded the surface of the tongue. Yet another had the taste of strong and dark greens like spinach or asparagus after the initial blast of salt.
So being so close to Santiago de Compostela, the area richly deserves an oyster pilgrimage some day!
1 Robert, R. et al: A glimpse on the mollusc industry in Europe. Aquaculture Europe, 2013, 38, 5-1.
An estimate based on recent FAO figures would now put annual production of the flat oysters in Spanish waters at about 1200-1500 tonnes.