Michael Tait’s family has been growing mussels since 1997, when his father William, a keen boatman, decided to set up an aquaculture farm in the Shetlands. It’s a rural location that has little pollution and a good supply of plankton, making it a pristine growing environment.
Shetland Mussels now boasts a farm with nearly 2 million metres of ropes (that’s almost 1,250 miles), on which the shellfish grow. The farm produces about 800 tonnes for us every year, for both pre-packed products and the fresh fish counters.
Each mussel is farmed over three years. ‘For the first year, the mussels simply feed on the plankton floating past, which is a very slow and natural process,’ explains Michael. ‘Then we take them off the ropes and transfer them to another site where there is more food available – it looks like a huge field in the middle of the sea! Here, they’re put on fresh ropes, wrapped in a biodegradable cotton “sock” and hung down in the sea with plenty of food and space to flourish.’
Once fully grown, the mussels are harvested, washed, covered in ice and taken straight to a distribution point in Glasgow where they are packed. It is this swift sea-to-shelf process that ensures the mussels are as fresh as can be.
The resulting plump, meaty mussels are a source of pride for Michael. ‘They have a nice marine taste rather than a fishy flavour because they’re grown in cold, clean Scottish water,’ he explains. ‘And, as they never touch the bottom of the sea, they don’t have a gritty texture.
‘I love nothing more than cooking my mussels in garlic, white wine and cream – the classic moules marinière. Perfect!’