Your daily news portal

Posted by portugalpress on February 23, 2018
Photo: Sara Alves/Open Media Group
Photo: Vasco Pinhol
Photos: Vasco Pinhol
Photo: Vasco Pinhol
Photo: Vasco Pinhol

The oysters from Moinho dos Ilhéus, in Ria Formosa, have already won over the palates of some of the country’s most renowned chefs

For some time now the oysters from Moinho dos Ilhéus, in Livramento, between Olhão and Tavira, have been used by influential chefs and foodies in the region and are regarded as the best in Ria Formosa, and probably in the whole country. The impressive 26-hectare property offers countless possibilities for the production of “happy oysters”, according to Margarida Sena Simões, a medical translator from Lisbon who is now in charge of the oyster farm. “When I decided to commit to producing oysters, I did not even like them!” she says. Nowadays, she has one or two for breakfast whenever she can. “They taste like the sea but they are sweet,” she assures.

The estate comprises several pipelines fed with constantly processed water, depending on the rise and fall of the tide. The oysters grow with plenty of room, food, natural light and without using any machinery throughout the whole process. There are also dozens of tanks, a hatchery and offices.

During low tide, the pipelines are dry and sun exposure “kills every E.coli bacteria. It is a natural purifying process and that is what makes our oysters unique,” she explains. The water is tested every fortnight and the area “is categorised as a class B zone, but with class A analytical results, due to the water’s great quality”, she states.

The oysters reach their optimal condition after just one year (in France they take three years) and can easily weigh between 60g and 100g. However, the biggest oyster produced at Moinho dos Ilhéus weighed half a kilo.

Margarida heads a small and familiar team, made up of her two children, a biologist and four employees, who easily produce around five tonnes of oysters per month, that is about 60 tonnes a year. “But we could easily produce 200 tonnes a year,” says Margarida, adding that “that is not the goal. We prefer to produce less but well. We want to fine-tune the oyster”.

Some of the molluscs are exported with the national seal, but the family company wants to assert itself in the Portuguese market especially. “Of course it would be much easier to export the entire produce to France or somewhere else, but I want my oysters to be enjoyed in my country, to have my brand and Portugal as their origin,” she explains.

The oysters from Moinho dos Ilhéus can be found in Apolónia supermarkets, directly from the farm or in the many restaurants that include them on their menus. The Bela Vista Hotel in Portimão, Vila Vita Parc in Porches, and the Noélia e Jerónimo restaurant in Tavira are just a few of the places that can no longer do without these oysters.

A major development for 2018 is guided tours around the estate. These can be booked through Eating Algarve Food Tours, a local company offering gastronomic and cultural experiences, at €55 per person. They explain about the history of the place, the production procedures on the farm, and end with oyster and wine tasting. Another company ambition is to convert the historic windmill into a visitor centre, so that it becomes the main area to host those wanting to try the highly praised oysters from Ria Formosa.

A farm with history
The property where the oysters from Moinho dos Ilhéus are produced today was acquired by Margarida Simões’ family in 1937. However, in 1985, the family signed a contract with a Norwegian aquaculture multinational and surrendered control of the estate for 25 years. That is how the biggest fish farm in the country was born, in the waters of Ria Formosa – now out of commission and waiting for another investor to show interest in operating the great tanks, once full of fish.

For two decades, these tanks were used for the intensive reproduction of sea bass and bream. While climbing the stairs to admire the dimensions of these gigantic, empty reservoirs, Cristina Pinhol, Margarida’s daughter, says that she still remembers seeing them full of massive fish. “There used to be a bridge that connected the edge of the tank to the centre, from where the fish were fed. I remember being afraid of falling in there, among such big fish,” she recalls.

After 22 years in operation, the Norwegian company went bankrupt and the place was literally “ransacked” by creditors. In 1996, Margarida decided to move to the Algarve and slowly revive Moinho dos Ilhéus. Despite the late career change, and judging by current oyster production, the decision seems set for success.