One of the uncelebrated qualities of oysters is how their flavor changes with the seasons, the weather, their age, their reproductive cycles and even their very placement within a small bay. Just a single oyster can provide a kaleidoscope of flavors; there’s the salty taste of the liquor when it first hits the tongue, gliding into a sweet burst as the silky fatty lipids are released, then a smooth sea tang lingers. If you’ve added lemon, shallot mignonette or tobasco, that extra kick will give you a thirst for a sip of Muscadet or a Homer Brew. A bite of buttered french bread will clear the palate for another round.
It’s a taste that’s “clean-flavored, with lots of cucumber and a crisp nori kind of snap to them. Salted honeydew, green tea, and apple candy notes linger on the finish.*” Well, we don’t know where Rowan Jacobson got the apple candy flavor from, but we too, think they’re delicious and dreamy. Subscribe to our harvest updates, and be the first to know when our next lot is sorted. As we harvest, we’ll try to capture the flavor of the moment as the year progresses. If our descriptions seem farfetched, or mismatched, we welcome you all to send us your own descriptions.
A collection of small oyster farms was established in Jakolof Bay in the early 1990s. These farms were consolidated into Northern Lights Oyster Company in 2000 by Mike Nakada, a thirty-five-year Alaskan commercial fisherman. The family-owned and -run business grew steadily and produced what people repeatedly say are by far the best, sweetest oysters they’ve tasted in the world. The farm was born from a desire to be closer to home, while still living on the water. The desire became an obsession to create an unsurpassed product with low-impact environmental sustainability.
Frank and Margo Reveil sailed with their two sons past Jakolof and into Homer the summer of 2012. After 3 years sailing the Pacific, they were ready to settle close to family in Alaska. But they too didn’t want to stray far from the water. They met and worked with Mike for a season, and fell in love with the farm and Jakolof Bay. Frank, a native of Brittany, France, and also a commercial fisherman, took one slurp of Mike Nakada’s finest and decided, on the spot, to become an oyster farmer.
Pacific Oysters are not indigenous to Alaska, and there’s no chance of them establishing non-native wild populations – they don’t reproduce in these frigid waters. Spat (baby oyster seed) are brought up from hatcheries in southeast Alaska, Washington and Hawaii. Survival rates are low, but those that do survive are the ones that can pack on some extra fat to endure the cold. Because they don’t go through a spawning cycle, the meat is in prime condition. These hardiest of oysters grow to thrive in the long summer daylight and the cool pristine waters. Twenty-foot tides churn the warm pacific currents with the icy runoff from the glacier fields of the Kenai Range, all creating the richest, healthiest diet an oyster could find anywhere on the planet. By the time they are ready for harvest, our oysters are delicious, plump, firm, and sweet with a pristine liquor.
We cultivate the oysters in lantern nets suspended in water cold enough that these pacific oysters never spawn. Jakolof Bay’s strong currents can rip gear apart, moving whole trees as fast as a skiff, but they also bring massive quantities of an oyster’s favorite foods right past their little lips.
In the summer before harvesting we move the mature oysters into flat nets in algae rich inter-tidal waters for hardening. As the extreme tides of this zone move in and out, the previously pampered oysters learn to protect themselves basking on the beach, opening and closing with the tides. This beach hardening exercises their muscles, building fit stock ready for travel. Maybe it’s the fasting between tides, or maybe it’s the algae rich bottom, or maybe the warmth of the beach appeals to their metabolisms, but this hardening process also makes for plumper tastier oysters. They get a last cleaning and tumble and then are set aside to recuperate before we do a final sorting, separating the silver from the dross – after 3-5 years of rigorous care in this extreme climate. Only the strong survive. A healthy, high-quality, live product will arrive at your table and delight your palate.
We try to harvest year-round, but it isn’t always possible. We do have sporadic periods where we get iced in on the wrong side, or hurricane force winds keep us from crossing over. Sign up for our harvest updates if you’d like to hear when oysters will be available.
If you can’t make it here to try them, we’ll send them to you when we can. Our oysters will transport you directly to Jakolof, just one slurp, close your eyes, and you should be able to see the otters playing, hear the eagles crying, smell the spruce, and taste the pristine briny ocean.
- The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issues our operating permit and they help assure that any spat we bring into the state come from certified facilities free from any diseases that could plague our oysters, or any other marine life in the bay.
- The Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard make sure we’re not impeding navigation with our operation.
- The Alaska Department of Natural Resources manages our lease, helps assure that we are making the most of this public resource, and helps us work amicably with our neighbors to resolve any conflicts that could arise from competing interests in the bay.
- The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) provides us with a framework and testing protocol to achieve the safest possible seafood product. The ADEC also conducts water monitoring of the entire bay, and weekly testing of our oysters in the summer (monthly in winter). We are then required to tag all shipments with our certification number and harvest details – anyone selling our oysters, must keep that tag on record for 90 days – if in doubt about whether or not your being served Jakolof Bay Oysters, ask to see our tag! We are confident that discerning consumers will appreciate the extra time, effort and care which has gone into growing our superior oysters and keeping them safe for consumption.
Special OrdersIf you wish to purchase quantities over 10 dozen for a special event and you need a specific arrival date, or if you want a shipment in Alaska call 907-299-3351 and we can chat about your needs, the weather and whether or not a delivery will be possible. Otherwise harvest dates will be posted on each item as it becomes available, and quantities will be limited. Thanks for your patience and understanding. Growing oysters in Alaska is a big challenge, but if you love oysters, they are worth the wait, the effort and yes the cost!