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Producer of the Month: Martin Laity, The Falmouth Oyster Company

Producer of the Month: Martin Laity, The Falmouth Oyster Company

Producer of the Month: Martin Laity, The Falmouth Oyster Company

Martin Laity has never had a cold. His lifelong consumption of mussels and oysters has kept any potential flu-bug at bay. Forget lemsip this winter, just feast on Falmouth oysters, which come into season this month. 

Martin  is a sixth generation oysterman and 50th generation descendent of a Cornish fishing family. He and his team of local fishermen use traditional sailing boats and oyster-harvesting methods that have changed little since Roman times. Some of the boats are up to 30 ft in length and have the original gaff cutter rig. The oyster beds, or lays, are marked by sticks, or ‘withies’, that protrude from the water. The fishermen rely on the tides, wind and local knowledge to dredge for oysters. Once caught, the oysters are purified for 36 hours before being sold. Some oysters are returned to beds to fatten, and can be sold after the close of the oyster season. Only about one in seven oysters per catch is ever any good. A lot of them are already dead or they are too small - the law states that each oyster must be more than 2 inches in diameter. 

In 1996 Martin helped to set up, the now annual, Falmouth Oyster Festival. This year it takes place from Thursday 13 to Sunday 16 October. The festival is a chance for people to experience the diversity and quality of Cornish Seafood and, in particular, one of the last remaining traditional oyster fisheries dredging by sail and hand punt. It also provides an opportunity for Cornish food and drink producers to promote their quality produce. 

  • Why do you do what you do? 

For over a century my family have derived their livelihood from oyster dredging in the Carrick Roads and surrounding rivers. I am a sixth generation oysterman. Fishing is in my blood and I cannot imagine doing anything else. 

  • What achievement are you most proud of? 

My involvment with setting up the Falmouth Oyster Festival. Every October since 1996, Falmouth has held an Oyster Festival in order to celebrate the tradition of dredging oysters and the countless recipes that showcase the oysters' versatility and desirability. The festival has been steadily gaining in popularity and attendance since its inception. 

  • What is your most memorable moment? 

Seeing 22.5 tonnes of Falmouth oysters leaving for the Christmas market in France.

  • If you were Prime Minister, what one thing would you do to encourage more people to eat British food? 
I would combine an eating British food campaign with a national health initiative. If we ate more food that was native to this country and in season we would all have healthier diets because we would all think more about what we were actually eating. Oysters, for example, are low in fat and calories and naturally high in protein, zinc, magnesium and calcium, as well as containing levels of vitamin A,B,C and D. Yet most of the oysters we harvest are exported. If consumers concentrated on buying seasonal British produce they would inevitably buy healthier ingredients rather than processed dishes. 

  • What is your favourite food and why? 
A fresh oyster with a twist of lemon. Nothing more complicated than that. 

  • What are your predictions for the future of British food? 
In the future I think that the climate will have more of an impact on British food consumption than the consumer. I think with the current Euro-crisis and financial downturn many consumers are starting to grow- their-own, forage for food and cook more with simple, classic British ingredients. I am not certain to what extent the climate will affect all areas of the British food industry but as far as oysters are concerned I would say the poor quality of summers and the harsh winters are causing stocks to decrease. 

  • If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food? 
The world is your oyster, as long as it is British. 

  • Best budget tip? 
Try and buy as much as you can directly from the producer be it meat, eggs, fish or vegetables. 

  • What's on the menu this evening? 
My other favourite dish - mussels. Tonight I am going to cook them with some cider, garlic and cream. 

  • How can people get hold of your produce? 
Phone me on 01326374748