When you think of culinary tourism, Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are two that probably come to mind. But another upstart is gunning to join their ranks: Virginia. The state is becoming increasingly known for its oysters — and they are getting primed to get you to come and experience them. Virginia boasts seven oyster growing regions, three of which are located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Although the remoteness of the Eastern Shore is one of its best qualities, there are plenty of resources for travelers when they get there. Two larger towns — Chincoteague to the north and Cape Charles to the south — have a host of quaint hotels, restaurants and art galleries that make a great base to go exploring the area’s many little towns and hamlets that are as interesting as some of their names: Nassawadox, Oyster, Onancock and Wachapreague.
Some wine with those oysters?
One of the highlights of the Eastern Shore is Chatham Vineyards , a working farm for four centuries with an 1818 federal brick mansion. A Cape Charles expedition company, Southeast Expeditions, offers the opportunity to kayak up a remote tidal creek, past oyster beds and historic farms, to the vineyard for wine tastings. Along the way, the guides describe the abundant wildlife and interesting history of the area.
For foodies who love adventure
If you have an adventuresome spirit and a true love of oysters, check out many of the oyster farms in the area. Although the tourist infrastructure for the oyster farms still is developing, many of the local oyster farms are welcoming to people interested in their product. We like Lynnhaven Oyster Company, Shooting Point Oyster Company, Cherrystone Aquafarms and JC Walker Brothers, Inc.
Virginia oysters: Nature and nurture
One reason Eastern Shore oysters are so good is because of the purity of the water. Parts of the shore are designated as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve and, according to the Nature Conservancy (which has taken a role in preserving the area), it contains the longest expanse of coastal wilderness left on the eastern seaboard.
Just as the locales of vineyards and vagaries of the growing seasons become part of the taste of wine (“terrior”), oysters develop unique flavors from the waters in which they are grown, known as their “merrior.” Savoring those different flavors is part of the fun and adventure of trying new oysters. Don’t miss the clean, briny and healthy Sewansecott oyster, grown by the H.M. Terry Company in the clean waters of Hog Island Bay. The Bay is surrounded by the Virginia Coastal Reserve, a collection of 14 undeveloped barrier islands and expanses of preserved salt marshes.