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The Zeeland rope-culture mussel season is finally upon us!

The rope-culture season for mussels from the Eastern Scheldt (Oosterschelde) officially starts on 22 May. Which is why now is a great time to tell you more about them.

Rope-culture mussels: what are they exactly?

These mussels are not called rope-culture mussels for nothing. They grow on vertical ropes suspended just under the surface of the water. The big advantage of rope-culture mussels is that they don’t come into contact with any sand or crabs at the bottom of the sea. Unlike ‘on-bottom’ culture mussels, which grow on the seabed. And because rope-culture mussels grow relatively faster, they have the added advantage of thinner shells and more meat. In other words, they are perfect mussels!

Where do they come from?

The rope-culture mussels grow in two areas in Zeeland. Half grow in the Eastern Scheldt, near the Storm Surge Barrier. While the other half grow in Lake Grevelingen. Neeltje cultivates her mussels in the old docks near the Delta Works. These sheltered waters offer the ideal breeding ground for rope-culture mussels. So you could say it’s just great place for these small shellfish to hang around.

How are they cultivated?

Mussels start to grow when the seeds (or spat) are ‘released’ into the water. The spat float through the water until they find something to cling to. That is why the growers hang a thick, fluffy rope in the water – suspended from a line – which the spat find easy to grab on to.

When the spat have grown to the right size, they are harvested. The spat are then transferred to new ropes wrapped in a tube-like net (or sock) and hung back in the water. Within a few days, the mussels will migrate to the outside of the net, where they have more room to grow and better access to food.

The amount of time it takes before they are fully grown depends on how much food they get, how fast the water current is, and the size of the waves. But one thing is sure: it is a natural, organic form of cultivation, which is why they are so delicious.

The mussel calibres

Mussels are divided into categories or calibres. The categories are based on the quantity of meat in the mussels, and not on the size of the shell or the quality. So in theory: the less mussels per kilo, the more meat each mussel has. But the taste and the quality of the mussels will still be same. Zeeland mussels always have a very distinctive salty taste.

Categories we can offer you:

“Extra”              more than 70 mussels per kg

“Super”            60 to 70 mussels per kg

“Imperial”        53 to 60 mussels per kg

“Jumbo”           45 to 53 mussels per kg

“Black Gold”   38 to 45 mussels per kg