“That’s what we call Butter Love,” says Lane Zirlott of Murder Point Oyster Company as he takes an oyster knife and severs the muscle of an oyster shell with a distinct purple stripe to reveal the plump cream colored mollusk meat inside. It produces a buttery bite with a briny burst as you sink your teeth into this tasty bivalve. The texture is dense and smooth not at all gritty or fleshy.
Lane and the Zirlott family were among the first to craft a new generation of oyster farming along Alabama’s gulf. This is quite significant considering in 2009 there was no oyster farming along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The Zirlott family has been in the seafood business in the Bayou La Batre area for 5 generations. From shrimping and fishing and now to oyster farming with the help and vision of Auburn University’s Dr. Bill Walton, an extension specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Making a living off and cultivating a life around the waters of the Gulf are nothing new to the Zirlott family, but this new craft of oyster farming allows them to practice ‘Butter Love’. As Lane says, “We don’t harvest oysters, we raise them.” This Australian ‘off-the-bottom’ method is defined by rows of movable baskets that float at the right depth along the water to control how fast they grow as well as to keep the oysters out of the murk and mud to create the most beautiful oyster you have ever seen. As the tide moves so do the baskets.
The care is evident the moment you lay eyes on the shell that is free from barnacles, mud, and grit. At first sight you know this is going to be a special oyster experience. It was so evident the first time I ordered a Murder Point Oyster that I could not stop talking about how beautiful this ‘Alabama’ oyster was, so different from any other Gulf oyster I had eaten. The distinct purple stripe pattern on the outside, the pearlized finish of the shell inside, and the taste was incomparable to any Gulf Oyster I had ever had. A long believer that the oyster is the perfect food, I had to learn more about this Alabama oyster.
Not many people would follow a stranger down a muddy road to a place called Murder Point, but that is exactly what my family and I did one blustery Sunday to learn more about this beautiful bivalve. If your love of oysters doesn’t captivate you to learn more about Murder Point, Lane’s thick Southern accent and charm will. With a welcoming smile and a ‘salt of the sea’ personality, Lane tells the story of the Murder Point Oyster with passion and love. We boarded the oyster boat and after just a few minutes of talking to Lane realized that oyster farming in Alabama isn’t just ‘cool’, it is vitally important to Alabama’s economy with a project harvest of over $2 million in 2016.
Motoring over to a section of oytsers, Lane compares oyster farming to grapes in Napa Valley, “You get a certain grape in Napa Valley it has a very distinct taste to that region, oysters are the same way as far as they take on the taste of their surroundings.” He looks out over the oyster farm continuing, “These oysters here are going to taste different from my oysters over in Portersville. These oysters in the springtime when the Pine trees come in have a little taste of pine pollen. If you don’t like these oysters I can take you to the farm near the river where the influx of fresh water comes in, the old timers call it ‘sweet water’ and it gives them a creamy, sweet taste and you might like that.” He even comments that oysters near Dauphin Island have a hint of mint in them. Lane insists, “If you don’t like these oysters, don’t give up on oysters because I guarantee you will find an oyster you like. That’s what’s so cool about oysters.”
Oysters may not lead the most glamorous lives clustered together feeding on algae, but they are packed with essential nutrients like protein, zinc, iron, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C. In fact oysters are one of the best sources for zinc which boosts your immune system, is essential for mental health, and increases fertility (hence where they get their reputation as an aphrodisiac). And the fact that they feed on algae means they are crucial to improving water quality. Yes these oyster farms aren’t just providing deliciousness, they could be the answer to keeping our Gulf waters clean and creating a healthy environment under the sea in which other species can thrive.
After a pleasant walk and pleasant talk along the briny shore, I looked out over the Gulf waters onto the rows and rows of oysters. With a hint of bright blue shining through the gray sky, it was a beautiful sight to behold. The Zirlott family are among the innovators moving Alabama into a new tradition of ‘real food’ and they are doing so with a superior product that rivals any oyster around the world. So the next time you have a craving for bivalves ask your waiter if they have any Alabama oysters. Long live the Alabama oyster, that is until it’s harvest time and there’s a dish of mignonette close by.
…O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one. –The Walrus And The Carpenter by Lewis Carroll