By Dara Wagner
MusselFest is right around the corner and you don’t want to miss it. The annual celebration of Penn Cove’s world famous mussels happens the first weekend of March in the unbelievably quaint little town of Coupeville, WA on Whidbey Island.
It’s a two day gastronomic extravaganza that includes boat tours of the mussel farm, chowder tasting and mussel eating competitions, music, art and children’s activities.
Last year I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation from Monika Star of WSU Extension Beach Watchers to join them on a behind the scenes tour of the mussel farm. Thanks to that fabulous organization and the great staff of Penn Cove Shellfish I got an in depth education on the operation. Here’s a sneak peek to wet your whistle for the festival’s delights.
We started our tour in Coupeville, my favorite little town in all of Washington State. Any excuse to go to this quaintly picturesque village is reason enough to head across the water.
Our tour began with boarding Old Blue, one of the Penn Cove Shellfish work boats. Their staff was informative and entertaining as they explained the ins and outs of “wrangling mussels.”
Mussels are “seeded” and grown on lines hanging from floating wooden rafts anchored in Penn Cove. These rafts and dangling lines of mussels rapidly become entire marine reef ecosystems, supporting a myriad of species from microscopic plankton to birds and full grown seals.
Decommissioned rafts are left in place to support the rich marine habitats they’ve developed. They’re rapidly taken over by seals, who turn them into nurseries for their babies.
When it’s time to harvest, processing ships pull directly up to the rafts of mature mussels.
The mussel strings are pulled out of the water and brought aboard the harvest ship…
…where they’re cleaned, sorted and bagged right on the water.
The live mussels are kept cool and wet aboard a storage vessel as they await imminent transport. Penn Cove mussels can be harvested in the morning and served in a New York restaurant that evening for dinner.
But you’ll want to get yours at the Fest, just minutes after harvest.
Photos by Dara Wagner