This is one of a series of articles about the Danish Oyster Festival, which was recently held in Rømø in the beautiful region of southwest Jutland. I was a guest of the Festival.
The land appears flat and featureless. The seascape is much the same. But with patience and a relaxed eye, there is much to enjoy, understand and remember.
We’re driving across a causeway that joins the island of Rømø to the Danish mainland. The island is tucked away in the remote southwest corner of the country close to the German border, a fact which accounts for the many German-number plated cars on the roads carrying bikes, canoes and paddle boards.
The tidal rhythms of the surrounding Wadden Sea attract migrating flocks of bird, binocular-holding holidaymakers and sporty types seeking wind-blown thrills, and more recently oyster enthusiasts. There are just 650 people calling the island home throughout the year, but tens of thousands of visitors cross the causeway to holiday and breathe deeply into the clean, salty air and swim in the fresh waters that surround the island.
Lying in the Wadden Sea, part of a giant UNESCO recognised eco-system, Rømo is a short ferry island to the exclusive German of island of Sylt.
Spend any time on the island and surrounding mainland of Jutland you’ll realise that the dykes, hidden canals, unexpected vantage points salt meadows, sand banks and dunes measuring 19m at the highest.
And now oyster lovers are arriving, with shucking knives, tea towels, steel gloves and full of expectation. The clean, fertile waters of the Wadden Sea and the horizon stretching mudflats are home to a rich biodiversity running from sperm whales to squid, cockles, mussels and oysters. The mud flats are revealed twice daily to reveal this treasure that has offered migrating birds a place to fatten up and rest before heading south to Africa for the winter.
However, there is a problem.
Some are unwelcome guests
Millions of these oysters are now threatening the region’s delicate balance. These non-native rock, or Pacific oysters are a handful, and have a voracious appetite. So much so, that they’ve pushing the smaller, gentler native oysters to dangerous low levels and threatening the survival of the native blue mussel.
So Povl Lønberg, an enterprising Dane, set about creating the annual Danish Oyster Festival with the remit of eating the invaders. This year’s event ran over four days, and welcomed nearly 5,000 people and finished with some of Europe’s top and upcoming chefs from Denmark, Germany and Belgium creating sensational new savoury and sweet recipes.
The young and dynamic Nicolaj Møller from Treetop restaurant in Vejle, Denmark was named Oyster Chef of the Year with a dish of cucumber, dill and horseradish topped with an ice cream made with wasabi. This dish took home first prize in the savoury class having been winner of oysters in the savoury kitchen. Check this post for a full list of winners, contestants and their delicious responses to making oyster even tastier.
Oyster Festival MANIFESTO
If you can’t beat them, eat them!
In the Danish part of the Wadden Sea there are an estimated 72,000 tonnes of oysters. They are of the invasive Pacific Oyster variety, and a threat to the Wadden Sea ecosystem as they put pressure on the mussel banks that area essential for feeding the local birds.
Eating the oysters from the Wadden Sea could help to keep the ecosystem in balance. At the same time the oyster is very nutritious and a delicious healthy choice.
Staying on Rømø
Over the long weekend spent on the island I was booked into two hotels, the Kommandørgården and Enjoy Resorts.
Loosely translated Kommandørgården means Commander Hotel, named for a sea captain the place has easy access to quiet roads ideal for cycling, to the beach and a short car drive away to the oyster beds.
This is a vast, sprawling long rise group of motel-style resort on the outskirts of the town surrounded by fields and many, many horses. They’re a passion for the owners and available for guests to explore the area’s riding trails at a leisurely, equine pace. Tough, hardy and bred for the region these Icelandic-heritage horses are perfect for dashing through the surf on northern Europe’s largest sandy beaches.
In the warmer, summer months the resort attracts campers both in tents and camper vans with easy access to the sea
Offering a slightly more comfortable stay, Enjoy Resorts also hosted the Oyster Festival and was a 20-minute walk into the small harbour town.
Again, the style is more self catering with comfortable, terraced two story apartments allowing guests to find that comforting Scandinavian feeing of hygge, after a day oyster shucking, hiking through beautiful seashore landscapes or galloping through the shallows.