Oyster festival in Biloxi a celebration of an enduring culture

Oyster festival in Biloxi a celebration of an enduring culture

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - All oysters sound the same when shucked, and when cooked. But do they taste the same?

“Texas oysters? They’re okay, but they’re not local oysters,” said Biloxi resident Julie Williams. “They’re not the good, salty oysters that I grew up with.”

And Williams should know.

“I grew up on Smith Street, which is one block from Bayview Avenue,” she said. “So, I grew up with the smell of oyster shells my entire life. I love oysters.”

But for now, the Texas imports will do after the Bonnet Carre Spillway disaster destroyed the Coast’s oyster population.

And what could have been a memorial service to a devastated industry became a celebration of an enduring culture at the Gulf Coast Oyster Cook Off & Festival Saturday at the Biloxi Town Green.

Like Williams, Coast residents are refusing to let a devastating season bring them down.

“Yeah, they need to keep the oyster festival going,” Williams said. “It’s just our heritage here on the Coast.”

John Graham, area director of Half Shell Oyster House, has had to find alternative sources for his oysters for a couple of years now, and Texas reefs are coming through, especially for the Gulf Coast Oyster Festival.

“That’s why we’re able to have a festival like this because of the Texas oysters that opened up,” he said. “And they’re big, huge oysters we’re getting right now. Some people may look at the big ones like they don’t like them, but they are best to cook. When you throw a little butter and some garlic and some cheese on them, that’s when they get really good.”

Like Williams, Peggy Patterson of Gulfport knows and loves her oysters.

“I have been eating them as long as I can remember that I liked them,” she said. “But I can tell you right now that I love them from raw all the way to cooked, however.”

And she has her preference.

“I’ve had Atlantic oysters and Pacific oysters, and I can tell you the oysters we get here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are the best.”

Does she think the Coast oyster industry can come back?

“It has to,” Patterson said. “I mean, it really has to because it’s just so important to us.”

In the cook-off competition at the festival, White Pillars won both the char-broiled and house specialty categories, and Half Shell Oyster House took first place in the raw category.

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