There’s something special about seeing the source, doing the hard work, and discovering the people behind the products we enjoy.
Outlaw Oysters is dedicated to “growing oysters so shuckin’ good,” and a team of chefs from Sawgrass made the trek over to taste the slurp-worthy oysters. They promise oysters that are tender, salty, and minerally, and according to Michael, they delivered.
About the trip
On January 13th, Michael Meuse (Executive Chef), Ben Brett (Chef de Cuisine at the Beach Club), Dean Bales (Chef de Cuisine at the Golf Club), and Elia Balas took a drive over to Panacea, FL to visit Outlaw Oysters oyster farm. The area used to be known as a crabbing town but natural disasters as well as oil spills have hurt the area significantly. But that didn’t stop owners Blake and Denita from opening their very own thriving oyster farm. As Dean put it, “It is a tight-knit family of people dedicated to reviving business, specifically oyster farming.”
The team from Sawgrass toured the facility, then went out on the boats to tend to the oysters. According to Michael, “We smelled like the ocean when we got done, but the work was very rewarding. There’s nothing like eating fresh oysters right on the boat!” The team got to know Blake and Denita as well as the cutting-edge farming techniques they follow. The result is a consistently killer product, which has positioned Outlaw as one of the nation’s premiere oyster companies.
The philosophy behind Outlaw Oysters
Great oysters have a specific flavor profile. It can vary depending on what type of oyster it is and what waters it came from. The waters in Panacea, FL bring you a salty, tender oyster with a smooth minerally finish. The techniques are what make the Outlaw Oysters stand out. Just as a farmer painstakingly tends to his fields, so does Outlaw Oysters.
The oysters start out between ¼ and ½ an inch long. That’s tiny! They are grouped in bags that can fit as many as 10,000 tiny oysters. The bags float on top of the water where the oysters can eat all the nutrients found on the surface. This floating farming technique ensures that the oysters aren’t at the bottom taking in grit and sand. Farmers are out every day turning baskets and sorting oysters.
Here’s why that’s important:
- The floating bags are rotated to allow for a small dose of Vitamin D – which kills algae, bacteria and barnacles on the shell. Farmers who don’t rotate and flip the bags end up with a mossy tasting oyster. Yuck. Instead, Outlaw Oysters taste minerally and clean, like a good oyster should.
- Sorting the oysters ensures that the larger faster growing oysters don’t overtake the slow growers. The oysters are dumped into a custom-built tumbler that has holes around the outside. The holes gradually get bigger as the oysters move down. This allows like-size oysters to fall through the holes into buckets. The biggest oysters get to the end and are deemed ready-to-eat! The smaller oysters are grouped together and put back into the ocean to keep growing.
- There’s a BONUS reason why tumbling and sorting are important. As the oysters are funneled through the tumbler and flipped in the water, little tiny pieces break away from the shell, which cause the oyster to grow deeper rather than longer. This is why Outlaw Oysters have a more meaty oyster!
After about 6-8 months, the oysters are market size. Having purified 50 gallons of water per day, they not only make for a tasty treat but are helping purify the ocean and bay during the process. The Sawgrass team got to “taste the difference between the different size oysters,” Ben said. He went on to say the oysters were the cleanest he’s ever eaten.
Sawgrass and Outlaw Oysters
With a partner like Outlaw Oysters, Michael can present the best oyster experience to members. Several things were important to Michael as he evaluated the relationship:
- It was important to stay local. FL oysters are special, and to have them come from a few hours away is amazing!
- Michael looked for a sea to table relationship where we buy directly from the farmer, which ensures the best price for members.
- The quality of the oyster is important. They must be briny, salty, tender, and minerally.
- He looks for an item that presents well on the plate.
Sawgrass is the first restaurant or country club to offer Outlaw Oysters on the east coast of FL, which means we get to have a unique oyster eating experience that no other Ponte Vedra Beach restaurant can offer.
On January 30th, Michael and his team hosted an oyster event where the product debuted. Members could buy 6 oysters for $12 served with traditional accompaniments. They were telling the story of Outlaw Oysters and gauging the reactions.
Look for more pop-up events like this and for Outlaw Oysters on the menu! At first the preparation will be raw, but they will offer other preparations in the future.
If you’re wondering if you can buy these from the source, the answer is yes! Check out their website for details. Outlaw Oysters allows consumers to buy the oysters directly from them, but why would you want to when you can get them at Sawgrass!