If you have ever driven down to Compo Beach in Westport, CT you may have noticed a small shack that sits in the middle of tranquil Sherwood Mill Pond located just minutes from the Long Island Sound. It sits so humbly and quietly amidst the beach going traffic, it is easily overlooked. But as one recent sunny afternoon proved, it is the scene of one of the more fun & delicious afternoons you can spend along the shores of Connecticut.
Hummock Island Oyster Farm has recently started offering oyster tasting tours of their historic oyster farming facilities. Owned and operated by the Northrop family, the property has been in the family for almost 400 years. It was deeded to their ancestors by King George back in the 1700s and the building itself dates back to 1747.
The tour starts off at Elvira’s Market, itself a great local tradition for the summer crowd. We immediately made new best friends as we waited for our tour guide to walk us down to the basin where a 27 ft skiff waits to take you to the island. The shallow waters make for a longer ride as our captain, Jeff Northrop Sr. pointed out because even at high tide, Mill Pond is only 18 inches to 2 feet deep. So the little boat makes a zig zag route to the main house to steer clear of the shallow bottom.
Once on the island, the mainland quickly fades are you start to wander around the crushed shell shores and start exploring the cozy main house. A series of small rooms featuring great historical photos and furniture await. As soon as the party is all gathered just outside the porch, everyone starts opening their coolers and picnic baskets; most bring along wine or beer, and cheese and crackers; and the real foodies bring their homemade or favorite gourmet store Mignonette sauces and get ready for the stars of the show to make their debut.
Jeff, Jr., a former hedge funder turned farmer, and the driving force of this new outreach for the business, fills up a massive ice filled chest with a few boxes of Hummocks Island’s finest. One by one, he starts shucking and sharing his family’s harvests, while the guests happily grab them almost as fast as Jeff can get them on the table. They oysters are sweet and sublime on their own; with the variety of sauces and lemon squeezes that were shared on the table, they were heavenly.
What made the afternoon so much more fun was the camaraderie that existed between the 30 strangers that were gathered on a picture perfect Sunday afternoon. People took turns trying their hands at shucking, with varying degrees of success – although one guest did have a distinct advantage as he was a orthopedic surgical resident. It is definitely not the easiest thing to master, but it was so much fun with everyone cheering each other on.
As soon as most of us had our fill (and it was a big fill as the oyster selection is extremely generous), everyone retreated to the front porch and row of adirondack chairs that offer the best view in town. We were then treated to a fantastic oral history of the island and the Connecticut Oyster Farming industry and practices. It was fascinating to hear the rich history the land enjoys.
The main house was originally built as a cooper shed next to a grist mill along the shoreline. Around 1850 the building was moved across the 83 acre pond at low tide by a herd of oxen. The pond was originally a tidal stream that was dammed up to provide power to turn the water wheels that ground grain at the mill. It remained there for years, withstanding the elements and ecological ebbs and flows that the pond would periodically endure; from red tides, flu and bacterial outbreaks as well as weather damage. Jeff Sr. lived in the house during his Staples High School years. It was then tended to by a caretaker that lived there for decades, until he was 83.
The next year, Hurricane Sandy devastated the property. It took a painstaking restoration by the Northrops to restore it; Jeff Jr. left his job on Wall Street to return to the family industry and has been integral in rebranding their business. The farm currently farms 4 million oysters at a time, and with the nutrient rich and pristine Mill Pond, they enjoy an accelerated maturity and success rate of almost 95% (versus the average 35%). They can also harvest their crops after only 18 months (versus the average time of 3 years) and have the advantage of being able to harvest year round. There is an old adage that you should never eat oysters in months with an ‘R’, but Hummock Island’s process allows year round enjoyment. The winter crops tend to be sweeter, while the summer tends to yield a milkier and smoother taste.
While mostly a nationwide wholesale company, they supply oysters to local favorites such as Paganos, The Whelk, The Pearl, Legal Seafood, just to name a few. The 3-inch Hummock Island oysters are the highest grade — a delicacy prized by oyster lovers everywhere. They are now trying to revitalize the clam industry and have started to use the additional unused 30 more acres behind the Island house to start. As the afternoon started to wind down, the wine and conversations flowed and our festive group shared stories and laughed until it was time to get back on our little boat launch and head home. Our time on Hummock Island was over, but the memories of a perfect August afternoon would stay with us as we said goodbye to our new friends. We didn’t find any pearls, but we definitely found a local treasure.
A Few Quick Tips and Things to Know Before You Go
- The trip tour and tasting lasts about and an hour and a half. It is very casual and does not feel timed at all. It’s completely stress free!
- As is usually the case around the meeting location, parking is limited. Arrive early to allow for time to find a spot; no easy task in the busy summer months.
- Rain Dates and rescheduling is available.
- Dress is casual and comfortable. Wear boat friendly shoes and attire. Shoes can get wet from getting in and out of the boat; the shell covered beach can be rough on lighter soled shoes. Wear rubber bottoms if possible.
- BYOB is encouraged and applauded! Everyone on our tour quickly made friends with one another over glasses of wine and shared apps and snacks. Cheese and crackers, wine, champagne, mignonette and cocktail sauces are definitely welcome!
- Make sure your phones are charged; there is no access to electricity.
- Last and most important….there are NO BATHROOMS! Be sure to make a pit stop before you head over. There is a bathroom located at Elvira’s, where you will meet the tour group.
- Photographs and video are encouraged. Jeff is always eager to have you share photos of the day and experience so be sure to tag @hummockisland if posting on social media.
For more infomation, contact Hummock Island www.hummockisland.com | 203.939.8570 FB/IG @hummockisland