By Liesel Schmidt
The dictionary defines the French term as a set of such environmental factors as soil, climate, and sunlight particular to a land or region that work in combination to give crops a distinctive character. Undefined by such specific terminology as it might have been to his mind, it was terroir that inspired Donnie McMahon to explore the possibility of starting his own oyster company in 2014, delving deep into his passion for the local waters where he’d spent so much of his youth eating oysters that had a flavor unmatched by any others.
“I grew up in Pensacola eating the most amazing local oysters; but, over the years, due to hurricanes, the BP Oil Spill, and other factors, the oyster beds suffered a huge decline,” McMahon says. “Unfortunately, all of that made it almost impossible to get local oysters anymore, despite the fact that we have the best waters along the Gulf Coast for oysters—and our oysters have the best taste,” he goes on.
And he’s not just being partial; there are actually research-based facts involved in that assessment, facts that took years of studies and testing to pull together—which just goes to show how deep his passion truly pushed him. “I wanted to bring them back, and that desire sparked a great idea about reestablishing the supply in the area. We started researching oyster farming all over the country and tested our local waters and found that they were absolutely ideal, because the river systems here are great; and the Gulf produces extra nutrients that help the oyster thrive.”
According to McMahon, farm raised oysters have a particular advantage in comparison to their wild counterparts, growing on the top of the water column as opposed to in the mud, which allows for greater oxygen flow as well as a higher exposure to a constant current of cleaner water and food. “Farmed oysters have a distinct difference; and it’s noticeable in cup of the oyster and the definition of the meat,” McMahon explains. “When you eat them raw, they have a cleaner finish and leave a good aftertaste. Our Pensacola Bay Oysters have an absolutely beautiful shell, a soft and creamy texture, a medium salinity, are very cupped, and leave you enjoying a clean aftertaste. All of that is crucial in creating an amazing oyster.”
Much like the ones McMahon remembers eating as a child, amazing is exactly how the oysters now being harvested by Pensacola Bay Oyster Company could be described. It was a long and slow process, to be sure, one full of red tape and research as well as years of waiting for the farms to start growing their crops once they were physically in place.
The fruits of their labor were finally realized on March 5, 2017, when their first harvest proved just how much the Pensacola area has been missing out on; and though McMahon and his crew might prefer to put it another way, watching people tasting those oysters has made everyone at Pensacola Bay Oyster Company happy as clams.
The crew itself is a small one, a truly homegrown, family-owned and operated business consisting of McMahon and his daughter Jane Lauter as well as Jonathon York and Lia Bullock, who help with marketing and harvesting. And while he might be a bit young to have assumed the role, everyone who knows anything about this tight-knit family knows that six-year-old Jack is the VP of his grandfather’s company. Much like a fine pearl, this passion of theirs is a family heirloom, a shared love that Donnie instilled in Jane when she was a child, taking his daughter out on the Gulf in search of crabs, fish, and oysters. “Being outdoors, out there on the water is in our blood,” says Jane. Naturally enough, she and her husband Pete—an avid oyster farmer in his spare time—passed it on to their own children, and so has begun a business that McMahon hopes will not only withstand the currents of change, but also thrive for years to come.
To taste Pensacola Bay Oyster Company oysters for yourself, their briny beauties are featured on the menu at locations including Marina Oyster Barn, The Fishhouse/Atlas Oyster House, Jackson’s Steakhouse, H2O, Grand Marlin, and Skopelos at New World, with more locations to come. Also available for purchase at Maria’s Fresh Seafood Market, located at 621 East Cervantes Street, Pensacola, Florida 32501. For more information, call (850) 982-2623 or visit www.pensacolabayoyster.com. Merchandise can be found online or in stores at Pensacola Hardware, Coastal Paddle, The South Outfitters, and Outcast.
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. minced ginger
1 tbsp. black sesame seeds
1 tbsp. white sesame seeds
1 tbsp. minced garlic
4 minced shallots
Wasabi paste to taste
In a medium sized bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk together until fully mixed, then pour in a mason jar and refrigerate. To achieve best flavor, chill for at least 24 hours. Serve with chilled oysters on the half shell.