Oysters, mussels, bivalves, and royalty at Loch Fyne
At Fish is the Dish, we pride ourselves on our fish facts and seafood knowledge – and it’s important to make sure we’re always adding to our expertise in all things fishy!
We like to be bursting with fish facts at all times, so that we can share all that juicy knowledge with everyone who wants to know about seafood.
That’s why our team headed to Loch Fyne for a study trip.
And with Loch Fyne being famous for oysters, mussels and seafood in general, their site in Clachan (near Inverary, Scotland), was the perfect destination for our education to continue.
With notebooks and pens at the ready, we were lucky enough to be granted behind-the-scenes access to their oyster and mussel farm, and smokehouse.
The first stop was the oyster and mussel farm, where we were shown the process of growing the bivalve molluscs (that’s the technical term for oysters, mussels, and a couple of other shellfish in their family tree).
They’re grown on the loch in baskets that protect them from the elements and rotate with the tides to keep them healthy.
After they reach the right size, they’re moved on shore and into a building which is where we went next – it’s where the magic happens.
They go into tanks which is where the quality checks are done.
And we couldn’t believe the process they go through.
Each oyster is individually tapped to check that it’s still alive.
Our tour guide pointed out that each of the tens of thousands of oysters sold each month is tap-checked by staff, and that’s the most effective way to checking they’re alive.
Other sellers have different techniques, but Loch Fyne haven’t found a more thorough and reliable approach, so they do it the old-fashioned way.
It’s hard to imagine all those shells getting tapped, and it must be a tough part of the job, but there’s nothing better than knowing you’ve done all you can to make sure your product is the best it can be.
In some ways the process of producing oysters is very simple, but the safeguards and controls in place to protect against contamination were very impressive.
The shelf life of an oyster also surprised most of us – clearly we don’t yet know everything about seafood!
We were told that oysters are fresh for nine days, which means that even after the two days of travel it takes to ship them to the furthest flung foreign lands, each one will have a further shelf life of a full week.
That gives you a long time with an oyster!
Loch Fyne has become a hub for workers in the seafood industry and they employ 120 people locally – making it one of the major employers in this rural area.
Employees are a mix of locals and EU workers who have moved across.
After enjoying the wonders of the oyster and mussel farm, it was time to see what the smokehouse had to offer.
It felt like we were secret agents entering Thames House.
All of our team had to change into protective clothing, wear masks, sign consent forms about our recent medical health, and under no circumstances take any pictures.
It was an impressive process and showed how seriously Loch Fyne is about their product.
However, it did mean that we couldn’t show you what we witnessed inside – so you’ll have to take our word for it!
They have a kiln which they fill up with wood from recycled whisky barrels, which they then close and light through holes at the bottom with a blow torch.
The smokehouse staff control the flames by adjusting the air flow, like on a wood burning stove.
The smoke rises and travels down a tunnel like an air conditioning unit to the hundreds of fish which are laid out on huge racks and cooked for 12 hours.
It’s all temperature controlled and automated but they check on them in person too.
A few of our team had seen smokehouses before, but nothing on this scale. It was very impressive!
The smokehouse employs a large proportion of Lithuanians along with some locals too.
While much of the work is regulated, as in the mussel farm, there is a lot of human process.
During our visit, a number of women were on the production line carefully packaging up each product.
Before we made our exit (from the smokehouse and plastic protective clothing) we caught a glimpse of gravlax curing.
The Nordic dish of salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill, was only a small amount compared to the mainstream smoked salmon, but it looked delicious.
If you haven’t tried gravlax, you really should!
After finishing our seafood study tour, our whole team was ravenous – which is just as well…
After enjoying a lunch of oysters, mussels, salmon, and stacks of other seafood, we made our way home.
Study tour completed - and our team moves a step closer to Total Seafood Knowledge!