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Oysters. You either love them or hate them. Yet, surprisingly, there’s a lot we don’t know about this tasty, slimy, expensive salt water clam, save for the idea that you eat them raw, accompanied by champagne… and that pregnant ladies aren’t allowed to join in! But, fear not, this week sees the return of the Hillsborough International Oyster Festival, where all things oysters are on offer. Being a massive oyster fan, this is one of my favourite events in NI.
Packed full of things to do, Hillsborough International Oyster Festival attracts thousands of visitors from as far away as Japan, Russia and the United States
Now in its 23rd year, the festival kicks off on September 1st, with the Oyster Masters Golf Day being the main event, and continues through the week with family events, pop up restaurants and concerts and – including the ‘Pearl & Oyster Blues Brothers Ball’. The festival culminates with the ‘Supercar Sunday’ motor show, on September 6th, where visitors have a chance to ride in their dream cars!
Obviously, the main focus is the oyster, and this year’s festival sees the return of the World Oyster Eating Championship where contestants will slurp down as many molluscs as they can, in an allotted time (those with a sensitive tummy should sit this out). The current World Champion is our very own Colin Shirlow, from Dromore, Co. Down. Colin also is the reigning Guinness World Record Holder. His record of consuming 233 oysters in three minutes is unbeaten since 2003! Colin will face a new contestant, especially flown in from America. You don't want to miss this!
The appetising Hillsborough Gourmet Pop-Up Restaurant will feature some of Northern Ireland’s top chefs, no doubt keen to use this very special ingredient.
Performing for the first time at Hillsborough International Oyster Festival, The Ulster Youth Orchestra Concert is one of the latest additions, along with local choirs and soloist Zoe Jackson, the Orchestra will serve up a feast of classical music, on Wednesday 2nd September.
Thursday brings with it the ‘Gourmet pop-up Restaurant’, when this unique dining experience will serve fine local cuisine prepared by chefs from The Plough, The Hillside, The Parson’s Nose and Mourne Seafood Bar. After an oyster and Prosecco drinks reception, guests will be treated to a dinner and entertainment, as the popular ‘Fawlty Towers Dinner Show’ accompanies the five-course meal.
The elegant, black-tie ‘Pearl & Oyster Blues Brothers Ball’ is Friday evening, featuring The Blues Brothers and Diva Dolls, together with a six-course banquet.
The Oyster Eating Championship, Soapbox Derby, funfair and ‘BBQ’ all feature on the penultimate Saturday. The event concludes on ‘Supercar Sunday’, when petrol-heads, who fancy a spin in their dream car, have the chance to experience a ride in one of the supercars on display, in exchange for a contribution fee to the Oyster Festival’s charities.
7 THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT OYSTERS
1 The saying "the world's your oyster" comes from Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor: "Why, then the world's mine oyster. Which I with sword will open."
2 Casanova, the great 18th century Italian lover, believed in starting the day by eating 50 oysters.
3 In 2005, research supported the view that oysters may have an aphrodisiac quality. No, you will not get turned on by eating an oyster. However, this sexy bivalve packs a wallop of zinc, which is great for making you feel good and keeping up your energy. Not only does the zinc boost your sex drive, but it also ups your immune system, helps get rid of acne, eases rashes and makes your bones stronger.
4 Low in calories, and high in nutritional value, oysters are chock full of vitamins and minerals including protein, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, zinc and vitamin C.
5 Experts agree that oysters should be served chilled on crushed ice, paired with champagne, Sauvignon Blanc, a Pilsner or an oyster stout, which is brewed with fresh oysters.
6 Despite any hopes you have of popping open an oyster and finding a gleaming pearl, the oysters we eat don’t actually make these precious gemstones. While the edible oysters belong to the family ostreidae, pearl oysters, or pinctada, are part of the pteriidae family. Of the seven main types that create the coveted orbs, each adds its own spin to the mix, giving them different colours, sizes and shapes. Also, unlike the common oysters we know, pinctada are found deep in the ocean, not near the surface.
7 Oysters can live up to twenty years and change their sex one or more times during their life span.
Full details of events can be found @ Hillsborough International Oyster Festival – Enjoy x