When I think of Gironde, I think of its capital, Bordeaux, and of the local wines. Maybe that’s because I’m no great lover of the département’s other famous product, the oyster.
The Bassin d’Arcachon – or Arcachon Bay – is the centre of the local oyster industry, and has been since Roman times.
The flat oyster, known as plates, was the only variety grown there until a Portuguese ship took shelter from a storm in the bay in 1868. It was carrying oysters and, assuming them to have gone off during their prolonged voyage, the crew discarded them overboard.
But oysters carry everything they need to grow inside their shells, so they survived – and thrived in their new environment. So much so, that this new Portuguese variety with its convex shells took over. Known as creuses, they became the mainstay of the local oyster industry, until disease wiped them out in the 1970s.
Since then, they have been replaced by the almost identical Japanese oyster, known locally as the Arcachon oyster.
Although Brittany produces more oysters overall, Arcachon supplies the majority of the oysters consumed in France.
Typically they are eaten with flat sausages, fresh bread, salted butter and – bien sûr – a glass of one of the regional wines, Entre-deux-Mers, a dry white. Now I’m interested.