The Farm

“Merroir” – Neologism from French mer (“sea”) + terroir. The complete set of local conditions in which seafood is raised.

In tasting wine, terroir is the flavor that is derived from the sense of place. In the oyster vocabulary merroir tells the flavor story that each oyster is intimately influenced by the area of water it lives in and the nutrients it feeds on enhanced by the currents and tides and the rainfall, temperatures and mineral content of the region. Even when oysters are the same species and grown using similar techniques, location can have a big effect on their flavor.
French Hermit oysters are the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) raised in floating cages south of Deer Island in the Mississippi Sound. The farm benefits by constantly flowing salty and nutrient rich waters.

Chefs describe French Hermit oysters’ merrior as having an elegant deep cupped bottom shell with a flat top. The roly-poly plump meat adheres to each crevasse of the cup filling every void. The flavor is a mixture of sweet butter and a crisp marriage of garden and sea with a delicate cucumber finish. Folks eating French Hermits frequently describe them as the best oyster they have ever eaten in their lives. It is hard not to puff up our chests and take all the credit for growing such a tasty oyster, but it is the location as well as the care they receive. That’s why we call them Uniquely Delicious.

The Farmers

Farming oysters fits perfectly with our history of sharing Mississippi oysters and the stories behind them.

Mike and Anita started French Hermit Oyster Co. as soon as Mississippi made an off-bottom oyster aquaculture industry. They love the lifestyle of being on the coast and working out in the Mississippi 

Sound growing beautiful reserve oysters.They are not even young chickens, but they stay young surrounded by their great staff and oyster farming friends.

Can you evangelize oysters?

If you ask Mike Arguelles, you'll not only get a fervent "yes!", but also a freshly shucked French Hermit.

Mike and Anita first met in 1991. When Mike would drive back to Memphis from his home in Biloxi he would bring a sack of oysters and open them impromptu. He said they were a friend making tool. He had a few fans but most of the time people would say "why don't you bring us some shrimp?" Mike and his traveling pop-up oyster bar on the truck tailgate were ahead of its time....half-shell oysters are more popular today.

Anita calls Mike an oyster evangelist. He is not that coiffed hair can you feel the spirit type of evangelist that you hear at a Southern tent revival. He is a steady flow of interesting oyster devotion, information, history, science, and stories…..sometimes real, sometimes made-up but always told with flair about Coastal Mississippi. He loves oysters and has always shared them with anyone who is interested.

Fountain's Deer Island Oysters

“Tending oysters is work that we delight in doing...can’t say that about most of the other jobs we have had.” – Andy & Debbie

Debbie and Andy are a husband-wife oyster farming team. Andy first saw oyster farming in the Navy thirty years ago. When Dr. Bill Walton started the off-bottom oyster aquaculture program at Auburn University they were hopeful that Mississippi would be next. The Fountain family tree was planted near the water, the LaFontaines can be traced to the first French folks that inhabited the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Fountains worked on the water whether it was building boats, hauling coal, fishing or serving their country in the Navy. Andy was driving boats before he was riding bikes. 

Andy and Debbie build boats when they are not farming oysters. You would know right away that Debbie is a nurse by trade. She is the resident oyster mother at the Deer Island farm and finds each batch of oyster babies unique and beautiful. We all believe that she would name each oyster if she could keep up with a couple of million names. Debbie reminds us that oysters are a keystone species which means if they are doing well in the Mississippi Gulf then that’s a good sign for the health of the whole coastal environment. The couple loves spending time tending oysters at the farm, listening to water lapping or a pod of dolphins surfacing.

Saint Ella Oyster Co.

"Maybe it was destiny that I would be the first to start an off-bottom oyster farm in our family." – Tommy Nguyen

Tommy Nguyen’s grandfather and father were fishermen in Vietnam. They came to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1978. Since fishing was their livelihood, they supported their family as deckhands in their local fishing community. It took some time, but they put aside their earnings and built a shrimp boat for starting their own seafood business. It is a tradition in Vietnamese culture to name boats after children. Boats were named Captain Tommy, Lucky Tommy, and Lucky Tommy II. With all the boats named “Tommy”, it seemed natural that Tommy Nguyen followed the family footsteps and worked on the boats named after him.  

Harvesting shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico can keep the crew away from family and friends for months at a time. Not the life for a teenager, at least not the life for Tommy. Tommy saw off-bottom oyster aquaculture as a path to grow a business in the seafood industry that he loved and stay close to family. He followed tradition and named his company, Saint Ella after his son and daughter. Tommy enjoys spending the day on the water and the physical challenges of managing his oysters, but he loves the part where he trailers his boat home to be with family at the end of the day.