It’s not a French Christmas or Réveillon without oysters, and these two weeks account for 69% of annual revenue for oyster farmers. Despite reports earlier this year of a mystery disease killing off oysters in droves, and an expected increase in prices due to the ensuing supply constraints, sales of oysters in France seem to be defying forecasts.
Earlier this month an article by France3 Aquitaine (the oyster region par excellence) reassured eager consumers that oysters would show up to the party on time, in good numbers and in excellent health.
Attitudes to eating oysters vary in different countries. They are sometimes regarded as the height of sophistication and a helpful aphrodisiac, or dismissed supsiciously as slimy, alien and reputably toxic. France, however, is the leading producer of oysters and almost self-sufficient in terms of oyster consumption. Food writer Gemma Driver says that in France everyone knows that you would be extremely unlikely to become ill from a fresh, living oyster that comes from the clean sea, unless you have an allergy to seafood. The French have also grown up with oysters being very accessible, at around 7 to 8 euros a dozen, and boxes of them piled high in supermarkets, fish mongers and the roadside stalls during winter.
They make a delicious and light starter. Often displayed simply on a platter over crushed ice, unadorned, accompanied by chilled champagne, the oyster holds a firm place at the holiday table in France.