New England mussel farmer Chip Davison had a problem. He had a product but no market. When he started his business, Great Eastern Mussel Farms in Tenants Harbor, Maine, in 1978, demand was nil for a product best associated with obscure Belgian tastes. So he skipped wholesalers and went straight to consumers with hundreds of cooking demonstrations across the country.
It worked. Today, Great Eastern Mussel Farms has 50 full-time employees, and the company’s mussels are available in grocery stores across the country.
The company’s rafts dot the Maine coast near St. George. The mussels hang off these floating rafts for 18 months, suspended from great ropes into the seawater—a technique known as rope-farming. Always environmentally aware, Davison avoids net-hauling that sweeps the ocean bare and catches many “unwanted” fish and shellfish.
Although U. S. mussel consumption has doubled since the year 2000, Davison’s main concern is still “just getting the word out.”
One of the most prolific feeders of the sea, mussels filter 10 to 15 gallons of water a day, consuming nearly everything in it. A rich source of protein, they are also very lean, with only 4g fat per 3 ounces of cooked meat. Like other mollusks, including clams and oysters, mussels are kept alive until cooking. Store them in an open container instead of wrapping them in plastic as they need to breathe. Mussels that are alive will close tightly when their shells are pressed together. Those that don’t should be thrown out. Likewise, only serve those that have opened upon cooking. Once cooked, mussels will slip easily from their shells.
Story by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, food writers in Colebrook, Conn.