Sunday, October 15, 2017

Oysterman Jules Melancon

Legends of the Industry

Jules Melancon, Fourth Generation Oysterman
I met Jules in 1979 while buying oysters from Capt. Hayman Pitre in Grand Isle, LA.  Jules, a bull of a man, known for throwing two 120 pound sacks of oysters, onto the  back of a trailer truck at a time. I had also heard of his grannfather, Capt. Beto Eymard, like Capt. Hayman, both legendary fisherman on the Bayous and Bays of South Louisiana.  They were both known for their delicious Barataria and Caminada Bay oysters.  

When Capt. Hayman introduced me to Jules little did I know a lifelong friendship was born.

I started buying oysters from Jules in 1983 and have been a friend of him and his wife Melanie since.  We have eaten and enjoyed more oysters together than I could ever count.  

His passion for his trade drew me in and his love of producing a great oyster  his loyalty and tenacious spirit  has kindled our lifelong friendship.

 About eight years ago Jules could see the handwriting on the wall and realized oyster populations would never be like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather's enjoyed and started looking for other choices to focus his passion.  He knew that he was not going  to see the volume to be able to fully utilize his 65 foot steel hull oyster boat named, My Melanie.  A beautiful boat but too expensive to operate with the diminishing stock of wild oysters, crew members and $200 dolllars of diesel a day made it unsustainable.

Motor Vessel " My Melanie" at dock in Grand Isle, LA

It was March 20, 2010 when giving a talk with author Robb Walsh to an Oyster Industry Convention in New Orleans, that I met Dr. Bill Walton that led to the the Caminada  Bay Oyster Company.
Me and Bill at State of Grace Oyster Bar
  Bill is the Senior Marine Scientist, Associate Professor, School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences at Auburn University. 

 I had spoken that day of the need to specify the location, reef or bay our  oysters are coming from and giving them a distinction rather than a generic Gulf Coast Oyster.  This term had been used since the 50's and 60's.   Prior the that people knew where their oysters were from on the Gulf Coast. Certain bays and bayous were highly prized for their distinctive  taste and flavor and were sold as Bayou Cook, Barataria Bay, Caminada Bay and the such.

Jules on the M/V My Melanie 2010

Bill had mentioned to me that Steve Crockett, in Grand Bay, Alabama was growing oysters from seed, supplied by Auburn's Fisheries lab and was using an off bottom oyster mariculture  process.  This intrigued me, I asked Bill if I could come down to Bayou LaBatre, AL to see what he and Steve were doing.
Point aux Pins Oyster Farm, Grand Bay, Alabama Steve, Bill & Jules

Knowing that Jules was looking to find another profession, which I know he would never be happy with, I asked him to ride down to see what was going on.  I told him if he would be interested,  I would help him get started and guarantee  sale of all of his production.  In return would I have a new hobby  and all the oysters I could eat.  Little did he know how many oyster I could eat.   On the ride home he said " Can you sell them, if so I can grow them".

Caminada Bay Oyster Farm was born and now  marketed under the Brands,  Beauregard Island, Champagne and  Caminada Bay Oysters.

This year Jules started his Barataria Bay Oyster Farm on his grandfather's historic Independence Island.  From that farm he will market the Queen Bess , Independence Island and a Barataria Pass oyster.

 Below is Jules' grandfather's boat hauling a load of seed oyster to Independance Island in the 1940's
The Barataria Basin yielded an oyster know as the "Aristocrat of the Oyster World", which he hopes to duplicate that taste at his new farm.  His Barataria Bay farm has been passed down to him for three generations.

Capt. Beto Eymard's Oyster Lugger Planting Seed in Barataria Bay circa 1040's

These oysters below were grown from seed using off-bottom mariculture  to compete in the North American Oyster Showcase in Gulf Shores, AL in 2015 and 2016.

Louisiana Sea Grant Lab, Grand Isle, LA
Louisiana Sea Grant Lab, Grand Isle, LA

Deep Cupped Oysters

Beautiful Maricultured Half Shell Oyster

Jules,, Me, Dickie Brennan and Chef Eric Cook at Bourbon House for a Caminada Bay Oyster and Wine Tasting

Rowan Jacobsen, author of The Essential Oyster enjoying a Caminada Bay Oyster on the oyster boat
In Rowan's latest book, The Essential  Oyster he talks about Jules' Caminada Bay and Beauregard Island oyster.  He says "With cages to protect the flock from marauding oyster drills, he has been able to produce the platonic ideal of a Louisiana oyster: a huge, plump dumpling of an oyster with the biggest adductor  I've ever seen on a farmed specimen.  The sweet adductor balances the salty belly and gives a lot of chew to the oyster--- just like Louisianans like it".

It takes someone that believes in the product because it cost more to produce than a wild oyster!

      Ryan Prewitt
Chef Ryan Prewitt,  left, James Beard Award winner 2014, Best Chef: South and his restaurant Peche was honered the same night, Best New Restaurant in America.  Ryan was the first chef to help market Jules' oysters and immediately, when asked, said yes, I will proudly sell them at Peche.

Jules has found other visionaries that get it, like Dickie Brennan, of the New Orleans Brennan Family of Fine Restraurants  and Dan Causagrove of Seaworthy, that have seen the value of promoting locally grown seafood.  Thanks to these three gentlemen and those that have reached out for his oyster and giving this new to Louisiana technique a chance. 
It takes chef's with vision to see that even if a fisherman produces a great product, it takes someone to market and make sure that fisherman makes enough money to stay in business.

It takes a successful fisherman to makes sure we continue our Gulf Coast fishing tradition and assures us all access to the best tasting seafood in the world.

Jules works his farm alone, with his wife Melanie,  helping with the accounting and reporting necessary to run a business.  Having built quite a reputation for their terrific farmed oysters, thankfully his demand has outstripped his supply.  This has encouraged him to expand and hopefully all those interested in his oyster will have access.

We are all lucky to have fisherman with foresight to see that sometimes doing what your grandparents and parents did is not enough and needs a little change.

Jules has put down his dredge, hand selecting every oyster he grows!

He has changed how he cultivates and grows oysters but like his ancestors is still striving to produce the best tasting oyster on the Gulf Coast!  He like his father and grandfathers before him were trailblazers, he's following his own path that is creating quite a wake on the bayous of South Louisiana.

He was the first fisherman in Louisiana to apply for and obtain an Alternative Oyster Culture license. Jules proudly shows off his  #001 in the State of Louisiana.

A true pioneer and visionary for the oyster industry, the way his ancestors were.  

Check out this link to see short video on Camanada Bay Oyster Farm/ Gulf Seafood Institute

(AOC) Louisiana License # 001

Look for his Famous Oysters at Fine New Orleans Restaurants
Six Caminada and Six Champagne Bay Oysters Peche Restaurant

From my Legends of the Industry Collection

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”   Ernest Hemingway


Monday, November 19, 2012

Charles Poirier Sugar Cane Syrup Maker

Charles Poirier's 

Pure Sugar Cane Syrup

I met Charles Porier last year when Roxanne Breaux gave Diane and I a bottle of his syrup as a gift.  He was only making the syrup for friends and family.  He had produced only about 36 - 12 oz. bottles last year with no intention of making any to sell.  I asked Diane to find out where he lived and how I could get in touch with him.  After tasting the syrup I called Charles to ask him to make more so that other people would have the chance to taste his light, pure and wonderful syrup.  I suggested to Charles that if he would grow enough sugar cane to produce 10 cases of syrup, I would purchase it all.  This is the reason for my blog, finding people that produce delicious Southern products and Charles is certainly one of them.

Now I am the one giving it to family and friends and hopefully you will see Poirier's syrup in stores one day.

 Charles tending his sugar cane patch

Charles is growing three varieties of sugar cane this year, an HOCP 000950 a POJ 290 (Product of Java) Purple Variety and the Ribbon or Stripped variety to find out which produce the best tasting
Charles Poirier and daughter Kelcia crushing  cane for  juice

Old 1800's Sugar Mill Charles found that was used to test the juice's  brix (sugar content)
This small mill was used when they received a load of cane to find out the sugar level before it was sent to the big mill for crushing.  

Crushing Sugar Cane to produce juice

Pure Sugar Cane Juice

 Pure Juice in cooking pot
Cooked for 6 to 7 hours slowly

Skimming impurities to keep the syrup light and clear.

Normally it takes about 125 stalks of cane to produce 15 gallons of juice like show above.  After slowly cooking the juice down for 6 to 7 hours the yield  is about 3 gallons of syrup. 

One of the treats of making homemade sugar cane syrup, an ice cold glass of the pure cane juice.

Finished Product

This is a two day process, the cane is cut the evening before and the crushing starts at sun up.  The juice is cooked for about 6 to 7 hours to the consistency of maple syrup.  This syrup is light enough to be put on pancakes or biscuits.   

Charles is in the process of building a Sugar House for next year's production and hopes to produce enough to sell locally.  Everyone should have the chance to try home cooked syrup, cooked the old fashion way... Slowly. 

 I was so excited to see someone revive the process that most sugar cane farmers preformed on their farms in the 18th and 19th century.  Most of the sweets in the deep South were made with this syrup in those days and as a child I can remember tasting candy that was a result of cooking the syrup too long.  

There is a very fine commercial sugar cane syrup producer in South Louisiana and available in stores but to taste this light honey colored syrup is a real treat for me.

Below is the recipe for Syrup Cake or Gateau De Sirop made with Steen's cane syrup.  Charles' syrup could be substituted and would produce a little milder tasting cake.


Servings 10

(Syrup Cake) or Masse Pain (as it is often called) Steen's Recipe
Note: This cake contains no sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ginger
1-1/2 Steen's cane syrup
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 egg,beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups sifted flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup hot water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square pan a 13 ½ x 8 ½ inch pan or muffin pan(s).

Combine oil, syrup, and beaten egg. Stir until well blended. Mix and re-sift dry ingredients except soda. Add dry ingredients to the oil, syrup, and egg mixture alternately with the hot water in which the soda has been dissolved. Begin and end with flour mixture.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gerald Wayne Lemoine's Annual Boucherie

The Meaning of Living in Avoyelles Parish 

Gerald Wayne Lemoine

Gerald Wayne called me in February and invited me to his annual boucherie and couchon du lait held at his home in Bordelonville, LA in Avoyelles Parish.  .  Avoyelles is Louisiana's  cultural center for roasting whole suckling pigs.  Everyone in the area has at one time roasted a pig or help in the process and most families preform this ritual on a regular basis.

When I arrived I had no idea what to expect, I only knew that  if Gerald Wayne was having a party it would be something I shouldn't miss.
Suckling Pig Roasting  with Pecan Wood

The array of food all done from the pig was overwhelming.  Boudin, cracklings, backbone stew, barbecued pork steaks, and a hole roasted pig.  If that wasn't enough, Gerald Wayne fried about 30 chickens as appetizers.


Barbecued Chicken and Pork Steaks

Pork Backbone Stew

Checking temperature of boudin

If this wasn't enough, there was an enormous table filled with potato salad, rice dressing, pickled eggs and cucumbers, cold slaw and so many more sides that I can't recall them all.  With that they were making fresh cinnamon rolls all day long.

Gerald Wayne's Legendary Cinnamon Rolls

On any given day you can find Gerald making these for someone.  It could be for a fundraiser or feeding children at  his petting zoo and most recently at his annual fundraiser in Avoyelles Parish Jail for female prisoners before the school year starts so that the incarcerated women can help buy school supplies for their children that have been left with relatives or friends to raise while they do their time.

 Guest taking care of business while enjoying this fabulous meal.                                                                                     

       Taking Care of Business with the 2 step                                                                                


                                                                    Fais Do Do                            

Gerald Wayne and I have become good friends over the years and  calls from him come from time to time. It always excites me to hear his voice and it is usually to invite me to one of his outrageous  parties or fundraisers.  Everyone should have the opportunity to attend at least one of Gerald Wayne Lemoine's legendary parties during their lifetime.  I only hope that I will get the chance to attend and enjoy many more.

                     Check out Southern Foodways Alliance's Short Film
                                                By Joe York

"To Live and Die in Avoyelles Parish"

When Gerald Wayne Calls, I Come Hungry

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Louisiana Blue Crabs

 Lake Pontchartrain Blue Crabs
 Greg with ice chest of crabs
Picking out the Big Males
 Greg showing off our crabs

 Blue Crab 9" Tip to Tip

Last week I had to make a trip to South Louisiana to check on product we were buying and to find out the latest on British Petroleum's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

I can always count on Greg Nick when I call and say I need help and today was a day that I would be spending 20 or so hours on the road alone, traveling the Louisiana coast.  He immediately  volunteered to help and when passing through Lafayette I picked him up.  We always make the best out of our trips together and traveling with him  is never going to be monotonous or boring and today was no exception. 

We were going to see our oyster fisherman, shrimp buyers and crabbers today and knew that somewhere along the way we would find some of Louisiana's  finest seafood for Greg to take back home to Peggy, Greg's wife.

On this trip we picked up a number of wonderful Louisiana delicacies and Anthony Liuzza's,  Liuzza Farms, produced some of them.  Our first stop was to pick up Liuzza's Creole tomato's and the famous Louisiana  strawberries at a favorite produce stand along the way.  Liuzza Farms are considered one of the premiere local farmers in  Louisiana and located in Tickfaw, LA.  Greg's favorite tomato's are the Liuzza Creole and I agree with him.

Next we went to visit a crabber friend of mine to talk to some of his friends about frogging for me this summer when the season opens.  Louisiana has some of the tastiest and tenderest frogs I have  eaten.  I want to introduce these frog legs to  some of our chefs in Texas  and in turn have their customers find out what they have been missing.

While we were there, crabbers were coming in from Lake Pontchartrain with some of the prettiest crabs I had seen this month.  Seeing these beauties, we could not pass picking up a couple of dozen.  A crab feast was in the making and with these giants you did not need more than three crabs per person.  Most of the crabs were  9 inches across from tip to tip, which I consider giant.

Greg and I both love boiled crabs and the way he cooks them is my favorite way.   He is of the old school New Orleans style, boiling then soaking.   He seasons the water to the taste he likes then adds the crabs, back side up.  After they are cooked he allows them to soak in the liquid that they were boiled in while adding a bag of ice to the boiling pot.  This change in temperature allows the crab to suck in the seasoned water, seasoning the blue crab's succulent sweet meat throughout.  He is one of the best crab cooks I know and could not wait to have him throw these beauties in his boiling pot.

We had a great trip that day, seeing crabbers, oyster-men, shrimpers and farmers but the highlight of this day was  not the wonderful bounty that we were able to find throughout South Louisiana, it was the quality time I got to spend with Greg, one of my oldest and most trusted friends.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mansura Cochon de Lait

"Pit Boss"  Gerald Wayne Lemoine

Cochon de Lait 
Cords of Pecan and Oak wood for the all night cook
Whole Hogs hanging in the Barbecue Barn

Gerald Wayne  with his pig sticker sampling the homemade links

Hogs and Shoulders hanging in the Barbecue Barn

Last week while in Grand Isle, Louisiana I noticed on my calendar that the Mansura Cochon de Lait was coming up on Mother's Day weekend.  I had missed it last year and made a note to make sure I made time to make the drive to Avoyelles Parish in East Central Louisiana.  

Everyone from Avoyelles Parish  knows how to have a Cochon de Lait (Suckling-Pig) and people in that neck of the woods have one of the largest and best pig roast in the state.  

Avoyelles Parish is  where the Red, Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers meet  which produce some of the most beautiful and one of the largest area of swamp land in Louisiana.  

I wanted to arrive in Mansura at around 4:00 p.m. to watch the "Pit Crew" light the fires and hang the whole hogs in the cochon de lait roasting barn, built just for roasting pigs.  I arrived at around 6:00 p.m. to meet legendary cook and "Pit Boss" Gerald Wayne Lamoine. 

The first thing that I noticed was Gerald Wayne all in black, wearing a large black western hat and  sporting a  45 caliber automatic  on his hip.  I immediately thought surely he must be the Sheriff or a Deputy and later found out that he was neither.  

Gerald Wayne told me that " I grew up working livestock in the swamps of Avoyelles and when I was seven years old my Uncle gave me a hat, a sidearm,  put him on a horse and told me to  round up these animals."
"I  never take this gun off, I spent eleven years in the Army as a Ranger and when I came home saw no reason to go anywhere without it."

Yes, I would call Gerald Wayne a man's man!

After hearing that story I immediately made plans to meet Gerald Wayne in Bourdelonville, his home town, and spend a Saturday with him at his farm.  He told me they make butter, cheese and milk about 60 gallons of milk a day from his animals.  I also want to talk to him about doing a cochon de lait for me but not quite as big as the one he was doing today.

Gerald Wayne is legendary in these parts for his cooking and baking, cochon de lait and cinnamon rolls are his specialty, and  in fact the next day  was going to do a benefit pancake breakfast, serving crawfish etouffee on top of them instead of syrup.  Gerald Wayne is the go-to man when wanting to throw a big party and today he was in his glory.  

Getting back to why I was in Mansura, "The Cochon de Lait".   I found out that they were cooking about 4,000 pounds of pork and and were going to serve a pork dinner for Mother's Day lunch between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. the next day.  The proceeds were to benefit the Mansura volunteer fire department.   

The hogs were split open from the stomach and laid flat between two pieces of heavy wire tied together and hung to roast rib side first.   Exposed to a roaring fire comprised of piles of oak and pecan wood,  these hogs were turned after about two and a half hours.  After turning the skin side facing the fire they were moved a foot or so back so not to cook the  skin side too fast.  The hogs began to drip after about  3 hours and the "Pit Boss" slowed the fire and slowly let them cook  for twelve more  hours turning every couple of hours throughout the rest of the night.  

Originally, long before the Civil War, cooking was done outside with an open fire so that the pigs  could be tended and watched while working in the fields.  

Gerald Wayne explained to me that the cochon de lait was done out of necessity in the early days.  A sow (female) can start having babies after about eight months old and can produce  8 to 12 and many times as much as 20 piglets in four months and can have babies twice a year.  He said that a sow could only feed so many piglets a day and the suckling pigs that could not get enough milk had to be killed and cooked so that the mother would have enough milk to feed the remaining piglets.   That is how the  cochon de lait was born, making the hog responsible for many great parties in Louisiana.  He told me that before refrigeration having cochon de laits were a common occurrence,  you could always find someone having a pig roast.  Today the cochon de lait is reserved for special occasions or outdoor parties.

I would recommend a trip next year to Mansura and the Cochon de Lait Festival .  Make a weekend out of it and tour the beautiful and scenic roads through this beautiful  parish.  I  put it on my calendar for next year, but will be going very soon to spend a day with Gerald Wayne Lamoine to see the real Avoyelles and hopefully find someone having a cochon de lait in their yard.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Breton Island Salts

6' Gulf Oyster from Breton Island, LA

Large "Breton Island Salt"

Brandy of Reef Restaurant with "Breton Island Salt"

1/2 Dozen Breton Island Oysters

Bryan Caswell - Reef Restaurant

 One of the advantages of my job is finding and having the opportunity to try many  wonderful and interesting food products whether it be crabs, crawfish, shrimp, oysters or whatever fin-fish is in season.  Today happen to be oysters, which in fact is one of my favorite foods.  I  never turn down a chance to eat oysters.

Last week  fourth generation oyster farmer John Tesvich, with Port Sulphur Fisheries Co., called me and said "a couple of weeks ago I put out 600 oysters in 12 cages off of Breton Island to begin testing salt-water relaying as a treatment for cleansing and enhancing Gulf oysters.  We harvested the oysters yesterday, after a 15 day soak, and I was impressed how the oysters looked and tasted."

John sent me 3 boxes of his Breton Island Salts to test.  I was having a lunch meeting the day they came in with Chef Bryan Caswell, author and food critic Robb Walsh and Dr. Jeff Savell from the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University and figured who better to help taste these Breton Island Salts than these guys.

These were beautiful thick shelled mature oysters that were plump and both salty and sweet at the same time.
The taste got better as I chewed and after eating  left a wonderful taste at the back of my tongue.  These oysters if given the chance could rival any that I  have eaten and would be a prize for any oyster bar anywhere to serve on the half-shell.  We checked the salinity with a refractometor that showed the salt level of 45 parts per thousand.  I think that oysters with a salinity of between 35 ppt and 45 ppt taste best.

Here were some of the comments from some of our tasting panel:  

Dr. Jeff Sabell "Wow, they can't get better than this!"

Robb Walsh  "Your Breton Island Salts are phenomenal!  Love the jumbo size, sweetness and the high salt!"

Bryan Caswell "I would like to echo Robb's remarks, your Breton Island Salts are one of  the sweetest, briniest I've ever experienced.  Jim gave us a box to test out on our oyster-loving clientele and the response has been phenomenal.  It makes me beam with pride to serve a Gulf oyster of that caliber.  My only question is how can I get more?" 

I have been a proponent for many years of the oyster men pulling out their best tasting oysters from their best reefs and trying to market them with specific names as the East and West Coast oyster dealers have been doing.  Every oyster man has his favorite reef and oysters and the time has come for them to separate them on the boat before they are mixed with the sacks going to the shucking shops.

  People now more than ever are wanting to eat local products and know where their foods come from.  With the renaissance of the oyster bar it just makes sense  for our fishermen to harvest their best tasting half shell oysters, name the reef they come from and market them at a price they deserve.  After all we have some of the best tasting oysters in the world and everyone in the United States should have the chance to eat a Breton Island Salt, Diamond Reef, Galveston Point or Apalachicola oyster.  

I personally feel that the offshore suspension relay system if approved by the FDA would be great for the Gulf Coast oyster and may give them the chance  to be enjoyed again in all the oyster bars across America as they once were. 

A study was done by Miles L. Motes and Angelo Depaola some years ago titled  "Offshore Suspension Relaying To Reduce Levels of Vibrio vulnificus in Oysters" (Crassostrea virginica)  ( This was the process that John Tesvich used to treat these oysters.)

Their findings were the following "Relaying of oysters into high-salinity offshore waters during the warm months reduces V. vulnificus to levels typically observed during January and February, two months in which food-born V. vulnificus illness has never been reported.  Thus, offshore relaying is a relatively simple process that the shellfish industry may employ to reduce V. vulnificus  levels in raw Gulf Coast oysters.  

Give Gulf oysters a chance!

Oysterman Jules Melancon

Legends of the Industry Jules Melancon, Fourth Generation Oysterman I met Jules in 1979 while buying oysters from Capt. Hay...