For 52 years, the third weekend of October has been all about oysters in St. Mary’s County.
That’s the weekend the national oyster shucking champion is crowned at the U.S. Oyster Festival, which takes place at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds in Leonardtown.
The 2018 festival is this weekend, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20; and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21. Admission is $10 per person, and kids 12 and younger are free.
The oyster festival celebrates the opening of oyster season on the Chesapeake Bay. Its premier event is the two-day National Oyster Shucking Championship Contest, which begins Saturday with men’s and women’s heats. The winners of those heats will compete again on Sunday for the men’s and women’s championships, and then those two shuckers compete against each other for the national title.
The competition attracts shuckers from across the country who have won local and regional contests in their area. Each competitor is timed while shucking 24 oysters and presenting them to be served. Time is important in the contest, but so is presentation! Contestants are judged on both. The shucked oysters are shared with spectators.
The winner of the competition here in Leonardtown can compete at the International Oyster Festival in Galway, Ireland.
But shucking isn’t the only thing happening at this annual festival. Live music and performances; craft, commercial, and non-profit vendors; and food and drink vendors make the oyster festival an event the whole family will enjoy! And, of course, there are oysters to eat everywhere! Stop at the Gourmet Oyster, Craft Beer, and Wine Tasting Room or food vendors to try oysters cooked many ways.
Plus, a second competition at the festival awards top cooks in three categories in the National Oyster Cook Off. Nine chefs have been chosen from a blind recipe evaluation to compete in three categories: Hors d’oeuvres, soups and stews, and main dishes. There are three chefs in each category, and each participates in a timed cooking competition to make their dish. A winner is chosen for each category. A Grand Prize winner is chosen from those, and spectators can vote on the People’s Choice Award.
The U.S. Oyster Festival is hosted and sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lexington Park. The event is the club’s biggest annual fundraiser, and proceeds are used to find the club’s charitable activities, including providing dictionaries to third graders across the county, supporting local non-profit organizations, and sponsoring a house each year for Christmas in April.
(Images via U.S. Oyster Festival website.)
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