The Wild Oysters of West Sweden

We look down at the bridge that’s half submerged in crystal clear icy water, as it hangs from the island we want to cross over to. Along with Lars Marstone – who co-owns Ostron & Musslor – and his wife Maivor, I stand on a gently swaying landing pier, having taken a boat out from the secluded Bohuslän coastline just outside the harbour town of Lysekil. The purpose of the trip is to seek out Swedish oysters and try some of the mussels native to this part of West Sweden.

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The coastline is made up of coloured granite rock with a covering of woodland and lone weatherboard huts tucked a little away from the shore. Small islands – including Käringeholmen, which we stand across from – lie within these waters, sheltering the coastline from the open sea. But, having had strong winds the day before, this wasn’t enough to protect the small bridge from breaking away.

We climb back onto the wooden boat and Lars produces a basket crammed with fresh oysters. “Now, it’s just the Champagne missing,” laughs Maivor warmly as Lars begins to split each one open with an oyster knife, handing them to each of us in turn. Contrary to the advice of some oyster aficionados, Maivor insists they should always be chewed, never swallowed whole, to release the oysters’ full sweet saltiness.

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Mussels and oysters flourish off the coast of West Sweden year-round, but they’re at their most abundant in the colder months. With the allure of being by the water in summer though, these shores attract visitors from across Sweden at this time; while I’m here – in the early spring – the coastline is almost deserted.

Every few days Lars and his partner in the oyster and mussel venture, Adriaan, go out on the boat to collect the mussels they’ve farmed, while a diver sustainably collects the oysters from the seabed. It’s the native Swedish oysters that are their greatest source of pride, but in recent years the much faster growing Japanese oysters have begun appearing, too.

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“Our diver picks the Swedish oysters from four or five metres down,” Maivor explains, “but the Japanese oysters are only one or two metres deep, so they can be picked up by walking along the rocks.” The difference in taste between them is clear; the Japanese oysters, despite taking far less time to grow, are significantly larger and meatier, while the Swedish variety have an intense flavour of the sea that’s attributed to their much slower growth. We throw our empty shells back overboard, Lars fires up the boat’s engine, and we slowly sidle away from the island.

After seeing how the mussels are farmed, Lars takes passengers to Käringeholmen to cook mussels over a stove in the great outdoors before sitting to eat them on the rocks. On this occasion, we return to Lars and Maivor’s home by the water. Lars’ family have long been based on this coastal spot outside Lysekil, his grandmother owning the entire patch of land until, over the years, small areas were bought by visitors who wanted to build their own waterside huts.

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A long time ago, the land was far more heavily populated though. As Lars points out a small island where two houses are set within the rocks, he explains that there used to be 40 homes and a church there. At that time, homes would have been clustered along the coast, as people came to make a living from fishing. Then, when the herring this coastline was famous for disappeared, the fishermen went inland to work as farmers instead.

Back in their light-filled, white-wood home, Maivor puts the mussels in a pot on the stove, filling the kitchen with their heady aroma. Then, after filling our bowls with the steaming mussels, we clink our glasses together and look out across the rocky coastline.

Mussel and oyster boat trips can be arranged year-round by contacting Ostron & Musslor.

Image credits: Cover photo © Image Bank Sweden / Fredrik Broman. A beach hut on the shore © Andreas Nordström. The broken bridge © Lauren Jade Hill. Boats in the harbour © Lauren Jade Hill. A view across the water © Image Bank Sweden / Fredrik Broman.