For many people, a visit to Hobart is incomplete without tasting a few (or a few dozen) Bruny Island oysters. There’s something special about the Pacific oysters which are farmed on a small island south of Hobart; they’re plump and have a slight saltiness to them, almost like you can taste the ocean.
You can find them in restaurants across Australia, or closer to the source every Saturday at the Salamanca Market. The stall is operated by husband and wife Mark and Erin Paine. Seven years ago, they bought the longest-running oyster lease on Bruny Island, Lease 69 (which is also the name of their stall).
Their oyster farm is nestled in Great Bay, on the western side of the island. “Bruny Island is only accessible by boat and ferry,” Erin Paine tells SBS Food. “A lot of produce comes out [of] the island. You have everything from cheese to wine and oysters. Where we are, in Great Bay, it’s pretty much just pasture and bush, it’s not a built-up area. We have that clean environment with fresh water coming from the Antarctic so it’s a great environment for seafood.”
"We have that clean environment with fresh water coming from the Antarctic so it’s a great environment for seafood.”
Taking over the business was a complete career change for the Paine family. Mark worked in the construction industry for two decades, but always dreamed of owning an oyster farm. He’s now on the water most days from 7 am, ensuring that the oysters grow from spat (little babies) to the perfect size to eat. The buffet-size oysters, which are the ones you see in restaurants, take about one and a half to two years to grow, while jumbo oysters can take up to almost six years.
“There’s quite a bit of handling. It’s not just popping them into the water; they’re in baskets and racks, and when they reach a certain size you have to put them in bigger baskets. A lot of the grading is done by hand,” explains Erin.
She, herself, remains on land, taking care of sales, administration and finances. Through their wholesale business, Tasouth Oysters, they send most stock to lucky Melbourne restaurants.
Feeding visitors at the Salamanca Market
A year ago, the couple decided to open a stall at the popular Salamanca Market under the name Lease 69. “We were missing that satisfaction of selling to the public,” explains Erin.
“It’s a good opportunity to meet tourists and talk about our produce. Seeing them eating what we’ve worked so hard to achieve, seeing the satisfaction on their faces, that’s what makes us the happiest.”
Lease 69 keeps things simple by shucking the oysters on-site and serving them with lemon or Tabasco. “Fresh seafood is normally a really good way to get that taste of the environment it’s been grown in,” says Erin.
“We get locals comings and ordering four, five dozen when they’re having a party and we also have a lot of tourists. Raw seafood is hugely popular with the Asian market.”
A dozen of the shucked buffet-size oysters goes for around $20 and a dozen of the large ones for $25. You can also get a jumbo oyster for $8 a pop or a buffet for $2 and a large for $3.
For Erin, it’s clear that it’s the pristine surroundings of Bruny Island are what give the businesses oysters their sought-after taste.
“A lot of people say that when they try our oysters, they can taste that clean, fresh, salt water.”
Ainsley Harriott visits Tasouth oysters during episode 4 of the brand-new season of Ainsley's Australian Market Menu. Catch it at 7:30pm Thursday 31 October on SBS, catch up on SBS Food at 7:30pm Sundays, or stream on SBS On Demand (below). Visit the Market Menu website for recipes, the episode guide and more.
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