A first-ever three-day celebration of Damariscotta region oysters will seek to cement the area’s reputation as the “Napa of oysters,” an organizer says.
The Damariscotta Oyster Celebration will take place June 14-16. The celebration will include a competition for the title of International Oyster Chef of the Year, “Tour De Source” boat tours of the oyster farms on the Damariscotta River, a “Taste Maine’s Future” five-course meal, and an oyster-shucking competition.
The food marketing company O’Maine Studios developed the celebration as part of an initiative called Taste Maine’s Future, which aims to grow demand for Maine food and beverages, according to CEO Rory Strunk.
“What we are trying to do is create this open house to the oyster world to bring people here,” Strunk said.
The Damariscotta Oyster Celebration will focus on the oyster industry in Boothbay, Boothbay Harbor, Bristol, Edgecomb, Damariscotta, Newcastle, and South Bristol, and will be an annual celebration, according to Strunk.
The celebration will showcase local oyster farms, including Dodge Cove Marine Farm and Muscongus Bay Aquaculture, Glidden Point Oysters, Johns River Oysters, Mook Sea Farms, Norumbega Oysters, Otter Cove Farms, and Pemaquid Oyster Co.
“I’m super excited. I think it’s great to get everybody together to appreciate what we have going on,” Ryan McPherson, owner of Glidden Point Oysters, said.
McPherson helped Strunk coordinate the event with other local oyster farms.
The International Oyster Chef of the Year competition will take place at the Boothbay Harbor Oceanside Golf Resort from 6-8 p.m., Thursday, June 14. Seven chefs from around the U.S. and Canada will compete for the title.
The Tour De Source event will take place at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, June 15. Boat tours will take place along the Damariscotta River, providing a behind-the-scenes look at oyster farming to those with a Benefactor Weekend Passport.
“The end goal is to expand the brand of the Damariscotta oyster product, and expand the sales,” Strunk said.
The Friday night “Taste Maine’s Future” dinner will be a five-course affair, with five chefs designing the meal. It will take place from 6-9 p.m. at Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm, and will feature local shellfish, seafood, meat, produce, and cheese.
Ten percent of the ticket proceeds from the dinner will be donated to the Darling Marine Center.
The celebration will end Saturday, June 16 from 2–7 p.m. on Courtyard Street in Damariscotta. The festivities will include a Can-Am Shuck Off with oyster shuckers from restaurants in the U.S. and Canada competing, the Jason Spooner Band performing, and local food, oyster tastings, and beverages.
Other events on Saturday will include tours of Mook Sea Farms in Walpole every hour from 9 a.m. to noon, an 11 a.m. guided hike to the Whaleback Shell Middens, a 10 a.m. coffee hour at the Darling Marine Center; tours and an oyster tasting at Glidden Point Oysters in Edgecomb, and hiking at the Dodge Point Preserve Nature Trail.
Attendees can either purchase tickets for the specific events they wish to attend, which range from $35-$200, or purchase ticket packages called “passports.”
The $350 Connoisseur Weekend Passport includes VIP seating at the International Oyster Chef of the Year competition, VIP seating at the Taste Maine’s Future dinner, early entrance for the shucking competition, and unrestricted tasting tickets for food or beverage.
The $750 Benefactor Weekend Passport includes everything in the connoisseur passport, as well as the Tour De Source riverboat tour of the area oyster farms.
There will also be passports visitors can bring to participating oyster farms and restaurants to get stamped. They can then go online to win prizes, according to Strunk.
The goal is to make the Damariscotta region and its oyster industry more well-known, or “the Napa of oysters,” Strunk said in reference to California’s Napa Valley wine country.
Proceeds from ticket sales help to sponsor events and sales trips for local oyster farmers, according to Strunk.
Tickets and more information are available at damariscottaoyster.com, or at the River Bottom Raw Bar in Newcastle.
Strunk hopes that attendees from around the world will say “we need more of that product” after the event, in order to “continue to build these sales relationships with these incredibly important food markets.”