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Confederation Cove Mussels

In my first two posts about our trip to PEI I sang the praises of the delicious Three Pigs burger, shared my impression of a good takeout fish spot, and remembered the best black cherry milkshake I’ve had in a long time. Here’s the thing, none of those were really the highlight of the trip for me. What I was really interested in was the tour we got of the Confederation Cove Mussel plant in Borden-Carleton and the mussels we brought home.

Picturesque wharf scene including old-timer who ignored the "No Trespassing" signs to fish there.

Picturesque PEI scene including old-timer who ignored the “No Trespassing” signs to fish there.

The plant manager, Len, was kind enough to take us on a thorough tour of their facilities. We started by walking out to the end of the break-wall that protects their wharf (Len thinks it might be the only privately owned one in Canada) and offers a spectacular view of the Confederation Bridge.

The Confederation Cove wharf in Borden-Carlton.

The Confederation Cove wharf in Borden-Carleton.

On the way back inside we visited the By The Water Shellfish facility that is also located on Confederation Cove owned land. By The Water has impressively modern and controlled system for sorting, storing, and packing Atlantic lobster. The lobster holding tanks can keep up to 400,000 lbs of live lobster in suitable conditions for months, thereby extending the season for live lobster.

Their is a clear commitment at Confederation Cove to high quality product. For instance they have chosen a de-bearding process that Len feels shocks the mussels as little as possible even though it might leave traces of beard behind.

Through their part owner JP Shellfish, Confederation Cove distributes a large portion of their product to the US Northeast. Driven by tradition, buyers in the live shellfish business still want to see that the product they’re buying is packed in ice so Confederation Cove devotes a great deal of effort to manufacturing ice.

Ice is just one way that they have adopted high tech methods to improve their product. When we visited they were on the verge of implementing an automated system for sorting, grading, and packing the mussels that they hope can handle forty pieces a minute and detect the meat size through the shell.

By carefully monitoring the mussels that come from the twenty-three leases from across PEI that they deal with Confederation Cove is able to stay well within government-mandated levels and make safety a primary concern.

The two giant bags on top are 20 lbs of mussels. The white cooler and the veg drawer are full of live lobsters.

The two giant bags on top are 20 lbs of mussels. The white cooler and the veg drawer are full of live lobsters.

With twenty pounds of blue mussels we gathered Island friends and family for a seafood-heavy barbeque. I cooked the mussels simply with a can of diced tomatoes, diced celery and onion, and some minced garlic. We served them with ample quantities of garlic bread for soaking up the broth.

All that seafood did a great job of filling the small fridge in the cottage we rented on the Island. It was part of a small operation that probably does a pretty brisk business in the summer but could probably benefit from some marketing help to give a boost to their shoulder-season business. For instance, since that trip, I’ve done a bunch of thinking about boutique hotel social media post ideas.

That's a lot of mussels.

That’s a lot of mussels.

I was impressed with the clean-tasting, just-firm-enough meat and (as always) deliciously salty broth. Despite my best efforts a two-and-a-half year old managed to out eat me by downing about a quarter of her body weight in mussels. I don’t know if it’s the flavour, or the sense of accomplishment that comes from pulling the meat from the shell but mussels seem to have a particular attraction for kids.

Confederation Cove mussels are available throughout North America through distributors. They also have provided mussels for special events like the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.

Confederation Cove Mussel Company: 10 Borden Avenue, Borden-Carleton, PEI; 902-437-2700; mussels@confederationcove.pe,ca

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