No Baloney, Abalone!
As I've said before, it's never a bad idea to know your food sources. During a recent trip to Santa Barbara, I got to make a fascinating side-visit to a moderate-sized abalone and halibut farm just north of town, poetically called The Cultured Abalone. For those who may be most accustomed to seeing it on Asian menus, abalone is a actually a type of snail (called abulon in Latin countries, ear-shells or mutton-fish in Australia, ormer in Great Britain, and venus-ears in South Africa) that lives in a half-shell which is a popular source of mother-of-pearl. Abalone meat might be easiest described as somewhere between scallop and clam, as it can be bigger like the former but firmer like the latter. If cooked right, it's not chewy but tender and mild.
Abalone is a very low-impact, sustainable food, that lives stuck to something firm (farms use concrete dividers) and eating seaweed or kelp, as the "farmer," Doug Bush explained it. To keep things even more sustainable, Doug has been growing seasonal red seaweed as well, and harvesting that too (it isn't apparently hard to grow more than the abalone can eat).
Growing abalone though, is an investment: they do need to live in seawater (this farm had to put in its own pipeline from the shore, several miles away) and they grow slowly. From larvae, including thirty months of indoor gestation, to a moderate size takes three years. The prized bigger ones take even longer, of course. So, this isn't a quick buck.
Bush also more recently took up raising halibut, which are a prime farm fish, partially because they like to lie around a lot (but when they move around, wow, they really get going, even flipping out of the water). These only take about two years to raise to a good size. and the farm is careful to feed them organically, using no drugs, only fresh water to treat parasites. Their waste is used to fertilize the seaweed for the abalone, which they've noticed here actually is helping the abalone grow faster.
Currently the farm ships its products as far away as Hong Kong and Korea.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUGUST 2011