Monday, February 28, 2011

Q&A: Bangs Island Mussels

Several months ago, when Matt Moretti '06 called me on a sunny weekend morning with the invitation to take a look at his Casco Bay mussel farm, I hemmed and hawed then jumped on the opportunity. I figured the boat ride would at least cure my hangover, and it did, but I also got a first hand look at the Bangs Island Mussel growing operation. I sat down with Matt few nights ago and talked with him about Bangs Island Mussels.

Tell us about Bangs Island Mussels.

Bangs Islands Mussels are premium quality, farmed mussels that have been grown in Casco Bay, Maine for more than 10 years. When we heard that the company was for sale last summer, my father and I formed Wild Ocean Aquaculture, LLC and bought it. Since that time we have been growing extremely high quality blue mussels for the blossoming high-end restaurant industry in Maine. Our mussels are grown on rafts floating in Casco Bay. Since mussels are exclusive filter feeders, they only need cold ocean nutrients to grow. Unlike land farming, mussel farming requires no additional inputs, such as water, fertilizer or any food. By excluding predators and providing optimum growing conditions, we allow for our mussels to grow to the finest quality nature can produce. Our mussels have a delicate, tender flavor, and an extremely high meat-to-shell ratio, all without any grit.

Bangs Island Mussels are good tasting, good for you, and good for the environment. In fact, mussel farming is a sustainable industry and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch lists farmed mussels as an "Eco-Best Choice" because they are farmed in an environmentally responsible manner.
Where are the mussels grown and what's the process?

Currently, all of our mussels are grown off the backside of Clapboard Island in Casco Bay, on a site leased from the state. We have four large rafts on which we grow all of our mussels. The process begins when we collect naturally occurring juvenile mussels from the waters at our site. The juveniles range from a few millimeters to a centimeter or more. The major mussels spawning event happens each year in early spring and supplies us with enough "seed" mussels to completely fill our production capacity. After collection, the juvenile "seed" mussels are attached to our grow-out ropes, which are suspended beneath the rafts, and allowed to grow undisturbed for 15 - 18 months. During this time our mussels will undergo rapid growth until they are about 55 millimeters in length, tender and delicious.

What makes Bangs Island Mussels superior to other mussels?

The ocean conditions at our site are uniquely suited to growing the highest quality mussels possible. Our approach to growing allows us to control for environmental factors that could decrease quality. Specifically, we control the density in which the mussels grow, allowing for free access to food and plenty of space to thrive. By utilizing floating rafts, our mussels are never exposed to the air at low tide like many wild mussels are, giving them more time to eat and a less harsh growing environment. Our mussels are also in a very protected area, which reduces wave stress and increases growth rate.
Where can I buy some?

You can buy Bangs Island Mussels at many high-end restaurants in the Portland area, and around the country. You can also buy directly from the Harbor Fish Market on Custom House Wharf or Browne Trading Company on Commercial Street.

Any recipe suggestions?

The nice thing about mussels is that they're very versatile in the kitchen. The easiest recipe is to steam the mussels in white wine with butter, garlic, shallots and parsley. I ran out of wine one evening and PBR proved to be an excellent substitute.

Check out Bangs Island Mussels on Facebook.

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