– Wonder Food of the Sea
“If you got stuck eating only one thing, mussels would be the best you could eat. They are low in calories and fat
composition and high in protein, essential minerals, and omega-3. And they taste a lot better when it’s all still stored
up inside of them”—Ian Jefferds, General Manager of Penn Cove Shellfish
Mussels are pretty simple animals. As bivalve filter eaters, they move a lot of algae through their systems, pumping and filtering the water as they feed. Ian Jefferds mussel farm is located in Whidbey Island’s Penn Cove, which captures all the nutrient-rich snowmelt from the Cascade Mountains along with the fresh mountain-river waters from the Skagit and the Stillaguamish. Here, the mussels grow quickly because of abundant plankton.
“Mussels live on a diet that mirrors the nutritional benefits of spirulina products you find based on dried algae,” explains Jefferds. “That means they store up a lot of the essential minerals that are out there—zinc, magnesium, manganese, iron, and calcium, as well as sugars and lipids that keep them healthy and growing. It’s important for us to get them on the plate as quickly as possible because once they come out of the water and are put in storage, they have to live off what is stored up inside of them. If they are kept for too long, that takes away from the overall taste experience.”
Chef Wiedmaier was impressed by the Penn Cove operation, where the mussels are harvested early in the morning and then carefully washed, sorted, bagged and tagged, and plunged into a saltwater ice slurry to cool them for shipping before they head to the refrigerated warehouse. There, they are packed up with consistent temperature monitoring, then sent to his restaurants by commercial air freight, all within 24 hours.
Along with a fresh product, Penn Cove Shellfish strive to deliver the most information they can about their operation firsthand to chefs and individual consumers alike. “We feel the same way Chef Wiedmaier does: the more people
know about a product, the more they will enjoy it,” says Jefferds, who regularly hosts chefs at the facilities and maintains a comprehensive website.
All the same things that make a wine great and unique can be said for shellfish. “The terroir, or ‘merrior,’ of the bays they come out of and the manner in which they are grown—these factors lend to the mussels’ flavor and appearance. If someone is aware of all this and can speak knowledgeably about it, it will excite the customer, who can develop a passion for that particular product.”