JESS PULLAR, Last updated 12:06, June 19 2015
They are salty, sophisticated and smooth, according to Nelson foodie Elizabeth Bean, and if you want to get a true taste of the ocean, new product Kiwa Oysters would be the way to go.
Kono, a premium food producer and subsidiary of Wakatu Incorporated based in Nelson, has developed the Kiwa Oysters through a refined breeding and farming process in Port Underwood, Marlborough.
The development has taken five years of work from a team of 10-15 researchers, scientists, and deck hands.
Urban Bar & Eatery co-owner Matt Bouterey has a try of a Kiwa oyster at Kono New Zealand.
The oysters, which are hatched on land and seeded out to farm, were produced to have a firm, but creamy texture and taste, with a metallic flavoured finish on the lips.
Bean, a Nelson Mail columnist, was joined by Neil Hodgson who also writes a food column for the Nelson Mail and Urban Eatery owner Matt Bouterey to taste the new product ahead of its launch event next week at the Hardy St restaurant.
Bouterey has already introduced Kiwa Oysters to the Urban menu, which includes two other oyster products. He said the Kiwa Oysters had been popular with customers, particularly for their fresh taste.
"Being so fresh you get a great texture, if the oyster [is older] it can be slightly rubbery and miss out on some of the flavour," said Bouterey.
The Kiwa Oysters are delivered to restaurants live, which gives them a point of difference to other oysters produced in New Zealand.
Hodgson said the Kiwa Oysters were "juicy" and had a plumpness to them.
"It's quite a delicate and fresh flavour," he said.
The shell to meat ratio of the oyster had been a focal point in the production of the Kiwa Oyster - it has a thin shell and a higher meat weight, which maximised flavour.
"You're actually getting quite a lot of oyster [in comparison to the shell size]," said Bean.
"These are in a different league, you're getting good value and taste for your buck."
The Kiwa Oyster had been trialled in the United States market along with New Zealand's, said Kono research and development manager Andy Elliot.
"[The United States] appreciate oysters, there has been a long-standing culture over there for that."
The Kiwa Oysters are technically still in development, but Elliot said the company was looking to increase production by three or four times within the next year, expanding to markets in Hong Kong and China. They would also look at supplying to more restaurants in New Zealand. Urban Eatery is the only Nelson restaurant now selling the oysters.
"Every time you start something new it's a big learning curve, there are a lot of logistics in exporting live produce," said Elliot.
But the company had worked through the challenge of delivering the product live by developing a procedure where the oysters still tasted fresh even when they had been out of the water for nine days.
Environmental factors had also posed a challenge, with weather events and seasonal changes impacting production and growth phases.
"There's always a risk element, especially when weather conditions change, but it was never going to be a cheap process," he said.
The winter months of June and July were prime seasonal times for oyster producing in New Zealand, a feat that bodes well for the company which is looking to export to the Northern Hemisphere, which is not currently in peak oyster season.
Kono sales and marketing general manager Mike Brown said the company has its gaze firmly on the overseas market where there is demand for Kono's premium products, including its renowned Tohu Wines.
"The [United States] market is three times the size of New Zealands market just for wine," said Brown.
With a good exchange rate he said now was a great time to be exporting to the United States.
America also had a further developed oyster culture compared with New Zealand.
He said where New Zealanders would happily eat oysters from a pottle, the same is not so common in America.
"We are still yet to develop as strong an oyster culture than places like America," he said.
Bean, Hodgson and Bouterey all gave Kono the tick for their sustainable approach to farming the oysters, something they agreed was becoming more important for producers to embrace.
"People are becoming more aware [of what they are eating], movies like That Sugar Film wouldn't have been taken very seriously a few years ago but now people are going home and looking twice at what they are eating," said Bean.
"That's why I think [the Kiwa Oysters] are great, it doesn't get more natural than this."