Cassie Plaza: Tarkine Fresh Oysters
Cassie is part of a thriving family business on Tasmania’s North West Coast serving up delicious local produce fresh from the sea
Where in the world can you be served plump oysters that only an hour earlier were in the bay? In Smithton, on Tasmania’s wild North West Coast, of course. When Tarkine Fresh Oysters say ‘shucked fresh daily’ they mean direct from the watery backyard of their café.
Roll up to Tarkine Fresh Oysters’ tasting centre and its unassuming three table café might appear to be the face of a small farming operation. But, strike up a chat with office and retail manager Cassie Plaza, and you’ll soon find there’s more than 18 million oysters busily growing out the back of it. Not just any oysters, but award-winning ones that have celebrity chefs begging for more.
So, who is Cassie and why oyster farming? Cassie is the daughter of Jon Poke who has committed over four decades of his life to the family business. Back in the 1970s, Jon’s father asked his sons if any of them were interested in oyster farming. With his young family in mind, Jon took up the offer. It all began in 1976 as a sole venture with three part-time employees on Jon’s 15-hectare lease at Duck Bay. Today, Tarkine Fresh Oysters employs 30 full-time staff and operates across a 130-hectare lease, equal to 52 football fields.
Those in the know are prepared to travel a long way for Tarkine Fresh Oysters. “People love our oysters,” smiles Cassie, taking an order from campervan travellers passing through. It only takes ordering the signature ‘oyster wheel’ dish once, to understand why.
Having spent time travelling and working across Australia, Tasmania lured Cassie back home, where she has worked in the family business for nearly 10 years.
“I was born and raised into oyster farming,” explains Cassie. “I remember when my brother and I had to push the boat out into the channel through soft silty sand while Dad was at the helm. We’d also have to shake the oyster trays in sync together. Today my brother operates a lease down south in Cambridge while my father continues to work up here, so it’s very much a family affair.”
Since it’s humble beginnings (with founding name Bolduans Bay Oysters), the company has grown into an award-winning leader. In 2017, they picked up Tassie’s Top Oyster at the Oyster Industry Awards as well as the People’s Choice Award and Best Open Dozen. Capitalising on their successes and increased visitation to the region, they opened a new café and tasting centre in Smithton in 2017. Here, visitors enjoy only oysters that are harvested and shucked that very day. From Crème Fraîche Oysters to Jon’s Kilpatrick or Rocky Point Oysters, served with a chilled Tasmanian Ghost Rock Pinot Gris, it’s not surprising visitors are flocking to enjoy freshly shucked beauties from the pristine estuarine waters of the Tarkine wilderness. The region is known for having some of the cleanest air and rainwater on the planet, along with one of the world’s greatest remaining tracts of temperate rainforest.
The rise and fall of the tide at Duck Bay is just right for growing oysters. What’s more, the stormy conditions of the region deliver meaty, nutritious oysters between November to April when many leases around Australia struggle with supply. Smithton also has some of the highest rainfall in the country’s south, providing nutrient-rich water for the oysters year-round.
Known for their sweet white flesh and creamy texture, Tarkine Fresh Oysters take around 24 months to grow in Duck Bay. The family pride themselves on the consistent quality, the high meat-to-shell ratio and the fact their oysters transport well to market.
“We have plans to operate tours come summer time,” adds Cassie. “This will be a fantastic opportunity for visitors to go out onto our lease and harvest their own oysters, learning about the entire process from bay to plate.”
Tarkine Fresh Oysters are on the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail, where there are plenty of other fine producers to meet on the way to Smithton. From cellar doors to farm gates to distilleries, there’s a bounty of tasty pleasures.
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