Visiting an oyster farm in Brittany

In the south of Brittany, on the banks of the small Belon river, the Cadoret family has been farming the region’s renowned oysters since 1880. Whether Plates du Belon, Fines de Bretagne or Perle Noire, all Cadoret oysters are refined according to ancestral expertise, and benefit from an exceptional natural environment. From the shores of Brittany to festive tables around the world, follow the journey of these precious ocean jewels.

Oh, it’s a pretty corner of Brittany here! A few kilometres from Quimperlé and Pont-Aven, small roads and bucolic paths dawdle between deep forests and tiny ports nestled in the meanders of a peaceful river. The Belon (or Bélon) flows into the Atlantic in a magnificent ria landscape, like a large fjord where the sea gets comfortable.

An emblem of Brittany

The Cadoret family has been running its oyster farm on the banks of the Belon for five generations, taking advantage of this ideal mixture of fresh and salt water for the growth and refinement of its oysters. The most famous is the Plate du Belon, known the world over for its delicate flesh and subtle, nutty flavour.

At the Cadorets, we work in the great outdoors, with our feet almost in the water. But there’s no time to laze around in the shade. Every year, almost 3,000 tonnes of oysters pass through the expert hands of the 60 or so employees – there are up to 200 during the holiday season – from the Breton oyster-building site, managed by Jean-Jacques Cadoret.

It all starts at sea

The life of the Cadoret oysters begins in the open sea, far from the Belon river. In Carantec Bay in northern Brittany, 200 hectares of breeding grounds welcome young oysters after the reproduction of larvae that provide the spat.

Arranged in large pockets checked daily and regularly turned over and shaken, they take their time to gain weight, out of view. Breton oyster beds can only be seen a few times a year at high tide – and it’s an opportunity for a careful inspection. The rest of the time, and every fortnight, divers take over. When mature, on average after three years, Cadoret oysters join the oyster farm on the banks of the Belon.

Goldsmith work

Now is the time for refining, a goldsmith’s work for which the Cadoret dynasty claims particular expertise. Sorted by size and immersed in the river for between three and nine months dependent on the species, the molluscs take advantage of this peaceful cure in brackish water, drained twice a day by the tide, and absorbing rich nutrients. “As the muscle grows, it gains roundness and flavour,” describes connoisseur Mickael Cloarec, Cadoret’s commercial director.

It only remains to rinse the oysters and purify them for 48 hours in a large pool before placing them in the basket in groups of 12, 24, 48 or more. But don’t assume this final job is the easiest one. You have to see the women of the Cadoret workshop in action to know that you’ll never taste an oyster the same way again.

Knock, knock

Standing and with full concentration, they sort the oysters, checking the size, counting to adjust the boxes while systematically ‘blistering’ each oyster. Knock, knock, knock. One by one, the shells are struck. Just by noise, the trained workers’ ears detect any open oysters, which are immediately put back in the water. Quality comes at the price of this constant attention.

Each year, millions of oysters march in tight rows along the packaging lines, peaking for Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. Cadoret oysters are in high demand by the greatest chefs and restaurants around the world. 60% of the production is exported, to Europe and further afield to Asia.

This is how a little of the iodized taste of Brittany travels to the other side of the world – thanks to the Cadoret family.

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