The delicious Fal oyster could soon be in a class of its own – and gain international protection against lesser imitations.
An application has been made by the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery Management Group to give the product Protected Designation of Origin status.
If successful it will be the first oyster fishery to get such designation.
Such a feat would mean the humble breed would join Cornish clotted cream in achieving the status – alongside stilton and Royal Jersey potatoes – while the Cornish pasty has gained a similar distinction, Protected Geographical Indication status.
"It would be amazing to get it. It would really put us on the map," said Chris Ranger, of Mylor's Cornish Native Oysters. "Falmouth oyster fisheries are unique and very distinctive and the oysters command a high price in London restaurants."
The application is currently out to European consultation, which will take several months. The designation is open to products which are produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area, and with features and characteristics which must be due to that area.
Fal oysters are produced within the Truro Port Fishery – Truro and Falmouth harbours and the beds of the Truro, Fal and Tresillian Rivers. They are harvested by fishermen using traditional methods on sailing and rowing vessels. In the application, the Truro fisheries management group said: "This method is unique to the region and is not repeated anywhere else in the country."
The native oysters have grown naturally on the sea bed for many centuries, feeding on plankton. The production of plankton is dependent on climatic conditions and nutrients within the water.
"It is the combination of these two that give the Fal oyster its particular flavour that is so prized by connoisseurs throughout the world," said the management group. "The Fal is a natural and wild fishery where oysters are not cultured or bred. There is a small amount of 'husbandry'. This keeps the fishery in good heart."
During spawning season, April 1 to October 31, no fishing is allowed, to prevent damage. After initial harvesting the oysters are sometimes kept on shallow beds in adjacent rivers.
The origin of the oyster – the fisherman, date and location of gathering, site and duration of relaying, depuration time and conditions – can all be traced through records.
The management group said the taste of the Fal oyster comes from the "rich mineral and biological content" of the water. "It is salty and sweet with juicy flavours of melon, lettuce and cucumber. It also has a lingering metallic light tin and copper finish."
This is said to be partly down to Cornish mines, specifically copper and zinc. "Consequently, the Fal oyster is organoleptically different from other oysters in the area."