Zeeland has quite a reputation for its mussels. They grow in two ways: suspended on hanging nets, or down on the tidal flats. Hanging is faster, and is used in the Oosterschelde estuary. The classical method on the flats also requires a dilution, or rinsing, period to remove much sand.
After buying their produce at the auction hall in Yerseke, the mussel trader takes the ‘flats’ varieties to dilution plots, to the east of Yerseke in the Oosterschelde. There is little wave motion in these shallow waters, so the mussels can safely be rinsed clean. After a week or so, the trader rinses them twice more, once on his boat and again upon landing.
In this relatively new technique, suspended mussels collect no sand in the shell. They get more food and light, and develop more meat. It is, though, more labour intensive. The seed are hung on ropes in long stocking-like nets, and the mussels grow through them. Hanging accounts for just a few percentage points of all mussel cultivation.
There’s no difference in taste between cultivation methods. The best time to enjoy mussels is in the season from mid-July to early April. Quite the best way to cook them is by boiling with onion, celery leaves, carrots and a very decent splash of white wine or beer. Lift the pan from the heat, put it on the table, plop the lid to one side for the shells, and welcome to Zeeland!