Metro Weekly

Virginia welcomes oyster lovers

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Virginia oyster – Photo: Troy Petenbrink

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe first announced the Virginia Oyster Trail in August 2014, and today — following more than a year of planning and development — he officially decreed the trail open for business.

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Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe – Photo: Troy Petenbrink

“We have so many different varieties [of oysters]. When you match that up with the historical significance of Virginia, with the sights that we have, with the 250 wineries that we have — when you match that all together, people say ‘yeah, Virginia is a great place to come,’” remarked Governor McAuliffe during the trail’s official dedication ceremony, held in the southeastern Virginia town of Irvington.

The Virginia Oyster Trail provides visitors with a linkage to nearly every aspect of oyster production and consumption within the Old Dominion State. Followers of the Trail learn about the watermen who harvest the oysters, the local restaurants that serve them in a variety of styles, and the Virginia-made wines, spirits, beers and ciders that pair with them — as well as information on lodging and other historic and cultural attractions found along the way.

“With seven different oyster regions, we are unlike any other state in the nation,” said Rita McClenny, President and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation. “The Virginia Oyster Trail will allow travelers to experience the state in a new way by pairing oysters with other Virginia products and learning more about the area they come from. This experience will be a new reason for travelers to visit Virginia.”

Spanning approximately 250 miles, the Trail weaves through towns surrounding the western and eastern shores of the Chesapeake Bay. It is waters from the rivers and the ocean converging near the mouth of the bay that allow for the wide range of mild to briny oysters that sets Virginia apart from other oyster producing areas.

“There really is this unique situation in the Chesapeake Bay where you get this incredible mix of salt and sweet,” said Ryan Croxton, co-founder of Rappahannock Oyster Co., who welcomes the creation of the Trail and believes it will only serve to help further educate visitors to the exceptional favor profile of Virginia oysters.

Virginia is the largest producer of fresh-wild catch and farm-raised oysters in the country. Over the past decade, aquaculture techniques have made oysters available year round and the Virginia oyster harvest has increased ten-fold. A record 39.8 million Virginia oysters were sold in 2014, according to the annual Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report.

The officially opening of the Virginia Oyster Trail coincides with Virginia Oyster month, and there are a number of activities scheduled through the end of November in celebration. A schedule of all the events for the month and throughout the year is available on the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s website.

Beyond the trail and events, Governor McAuliffe has his own personal take for visiting his state.

“Virginia is for lovers,” he said. “You have your wine. You have your oysters. You put it all together. And… you’re on your own to figure the rest out.”

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Troy Petenbrink is Metro Weekly's contributing writer for food and travel. He can be reached at thegaytraveler@gmail.com.