Everything about mussels

1. MUSSELS CHEZ LEON

1.1. MUSSELS IN GENERAL

1.2. LEON SUPPLIES

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2. ZEALAND MUSSEL

2.1. WADDENZEE

2.2. EASTERN SCHELDT

2.3. HISTORY OF MUSSEL FARMING

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3. MUSSEL FARMING

3.1. NURSERY

3.2. DEVELOPMENT

3.3. MUSSEL MARKET

3.4. GROWOUT

3.5 SALE

GOLDEN MUSSEL TROPHY

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1. MUSSELS CHEZ LEON
The reputation of the restaurant CHEZ LEON is based essentially on its concept of Mussels and Chips.
This mollusc is therefore at the very centre of the restaurant’s life and the quality of supply is consequently primordial and strict.

1.1. MUSSELS IN GENERAL

There is hardly any sea where mussels cannot develop.
Mussel farming is practised throughout the world.  However, there are several species of this mollusc, and not all have the same gustatory and culinary qualities.
Delicious to the palate, the mussel is a prized nutritional product for its protein, mineral salts, and very low fat content.
The nutritional value of 100 g of mussel meat is as follows:
– Energy value: 57 calories = 242 Joules
– Albumin: 10 g
– Carbohydrates: 2 g
– Fat: 1 g
– Sodium: 300 mg
– Phosphorus: 250 mg
– Iron: 6 mg
– Vitamin C: 2 mg
– Vitamin B2: 0.17 mg
– Vitamin Bi: 0.15 mg
– Vitamin A: 0.05 mg

Around one tonne of mussels is consumed every day CHEZ LEON in Brussels, or 360 tonnes per year.
The figures speaks volume about the demand for the product, especially of such impeccable quality as served CHEZ LEON.

1.2. LEON SUPPLIES

For gastronomic as well as geographic reasons, the RESTAURANT CHEZ LEON is usually supplied from the Netherlands, a country known for the quality of the Zealand Mussel, a particularly tasty, large-sized mollusc. This provenance and this quality are the only ones accepted CHEZ LEON during the opening season, i.e. mid-July to Easter.
More specifically, a break is imposed by biological criteria, in particular the reproduction period of this mollusc, from Easter until mid-July.
Outside the harvesting season for the Zealand mollusc, the RESTAURANT CHEZ LEON is supplied from a country nearby, Denmark or England, which are also known for their production of mussels, whose quality nonetheless cannot equal that of Zealand. .
2. ZEALAND MUSSEL
Whereas the Eastern Scheldt and the Zealand sea are the ideal environment for mussel farming (more on this point presently), the ideal environment for mussel spawning is the WADDENZEE.  Reaching a size of 5 to 6 cm, the mussels are cleaned from all supports and waste to be matured and have the sand removed from them in special basins.
Once ready for sale, they are checked by the veterinary services and are issued a certificate which must be on the bags sold.
But let us go over the life of the Zealand mussel.

2.1. WADDENZEE

It is in this inlet, protected by West Friesland and fed by very many streams that turn it into a low salinity environment, that mussel farmers come to get the spat and have it grow in the Eastern Scheldt.  Thousands of larvae, smaller than 1 cm, are swimming on the coast and in the inlets.  Spat collection is authorised only a few weeks a year, in May and June, i.e. about a month after the mussel reproduction period, and is done by dredging the mussel beds.  As the spat is still in more or less floating clusters and not yet fixed, the movement of the sea currents is decisive for detecting the location of the baby mussels.  The skill of the mussel farmers is gauged by their ability to find the spat areas rapidly.

2.2. EASTERN SCHELDT

The combined action over several thousand years of the seaweeds and sand brought by the sea, together with the mud brought by the rivers that flow into it has led to the creation of embankments and the formation of lagoons filled with fresh water from the rivers.
Owing to storms and periods of rising waters, these embankments have not always been in the same places, but they have always existed, making this area a region very rich in peat, at times running several metres deep.
Man tried to settle in this region from the beginning of the 8th century, where in spite of the lowlands situated below sea level, these natural dykes provided protection from flooding.  They were artificially reinforced by the construction of additional hillocks and dykes, although the fury of the sea often reclaimed what man had built with such toil.
The floods that disturbed life in this part of the globe can be pinpointed:  There were the disasters of 1014 and 1134, but above all the terrible submersion of Saint Felix in 1530, in which the entire town of REIMERSWAAL and its surroundings disappeared. This region, which is located to the east of VERSEKE, is today called the drowned land of  ZUIT – BEVELAND.
Stabilised since the 17th century, this delta thus consists of thick layers of fossilised peat and fine layers of silty peat that make it particularly suitable for mussel farming, but also for shellfish farming in general.     Furthermore, the waters of the Eastern Scheldt, especially its East Basin, have a high temperature for the region, which is otherwise found only in the waters of southern Europe.
This phenomenon is due to the considerable warming of the immense peat bogs at low tide, which then transfer this heat to the water at high tide.
Owing to the natural cut of this estuary, the reflux from the Eastern Scheldt lasts an hour longer than that from the Western Scheldt.  It thus pushes  away the dirtier waters from the Western part and prevents them from penetrating in this inlet.
When this part of the coast was built, it was agreed that no sewer network would pollute this environment.   Finally, strong South-to-North sea currents divert the waters of the Rhine to the North and prevent them from polluting this mouth of the Scheldt.
The combination of these three phenomena make the Eastern Scheldt, and its extension, the sea of Zealand, an ecologically very clean environment and therefore particularly suited for shellfish and mussel farming.

2.3. HISTORY OF MUSSEL FARMING

The inhabitants of this delta, so rich in fish and game, used to live from hunting and fishing.
They naturally fished mussels on occasion, but for their own consumption and that of the surrounding villages.
Some fishermen soon discovered that they could transplant these molluscs from their region of origin to more protected areas and that not only they became bigger, but their taste improved at the same time.  This is how mussel farming originated.
In the Zealand region, for instance in TIIOLEN, PHILIPPINE, YERSEKE and ZIERIKSEE, the profession of mussel farmer and shipper thus came into being.
Until 1825, mussel fishing was unregulated.
The inhabitants of the regions around Zealand waters fished in the natural basins, but did not have facilities to protect and farm the mussels they had thus collected.   This situation created a lot of difficulties between the fishermen in Zealand waters, but also and especially with fishermen who came from other regions.
At a certain moment, this lack of regulation led to an overexploitation of the lands and a sharp drop in the quality of this mollusc.
That is why, in 1825, a Royal Decree entrusted the administrative authorities with the management of this fishery on the Scheldt and the rivers of Zealand.
The administrative authorities determined the period for the collection of spat, and the division of this area into basins, proceeded to attribute these plots by a lottery system, and adopted measures concerning the period of fishing adult mussels, the minimum size of the stallholder for this mollusc, and the mandatory health mark.
This management of mussel farming has been continued down to the present day.
The city of PHILIPPINE had long been the commercial centre of the region, a function taken over in the beginning of the 20th century by YERSEKE.

 

3.MUSSEL FARMING
3.1. NURSERY

When the spat is sought in the WADDENSEE, “the baby mussels” do not exceed a centimetre in size.  It floats at that time massed together in clusters.
Deposited in thick layers in the basins of this warm and ecologically protected environment of the Eastern Scheldt, it will develop rapidly and soon.  The mussels become heavier than the water and fall to the bottom.
The byssal threads are then secreted and the small mussels get attached to all the objects they find at the bottom of the sea.
They use their base to move some more until they find the place that suits them best.  Once fixed, they scarcely move any more, except as a reflex of survival if the environment should become dangerous:  silting or sanding up, pollution, etc.
Mussels feed essentially on phytoplankton but also on animal plankton which they capture by filtering the sea water.
This plankton, which results from the development of many animal and plant species on the mud, sand, and peat of this part of the Scheldt, is brewed by the sea currents and enables the mussel to find abundant food, although it is sedentary.
Mussels will stay in these nurseries until they are 4 to 5 cm in size, forming a substantial whole on the bottom of the sea.

3.2. DEVELOPMENT

After this initial phase, the mussels are collected to be transported onto other plots that are richer in phytoplankton.
There, they will be able to reach their commercial size of about 6 cm.
These plots are constantly cleaned, maintained and inspected for the quality of the food.
They must above all be protected against the natural enemy of the mussel: the SEA STAR. The sea star is very fond of mussels which it crushes with its powerful arms before ingesting them. Some storms and sea currents at times bring impressive quantities of sea stars that cause serious damage.
When the mussels have reached a sufficient size to be sold, they are sold on the market at the YERSEKE mussel farming commercial centre.
That is where the mussel market is held.

3.3. MUSSEL MARKET

To be admitted to the sale, the mussel farmers must first pass an initial quality control inspection of their mussels.
Once the content of a vessel’s hold has been determined, a 2.5 kilo sample is examined by officials from the inter-professional seafood committee which supervises the mussel market.
This examination is conducted to determine: the waste percentage:  empty shells, barnacles (sort of small shells), crabs, sea stars, seaweeds, etc… the size of the shell, the number of mussels in the sample, the net weight in cooked mussel meat, the results of this examination are posted on a large electronic board in the hall where the mussel market is held.
Fresh or tinned mussel mongers use the same electronic board to subscribe to the cargos presented.
The name of the highest bidder and the price he offers are then displayed on the board.

3.4. GROWOUT

As soon as they are sold at YERSEKE, the mussels are routed and carefully sown in the protected beds of wholesalers, still in the Eastern Scheldt.  These overflow beds as they are known are located to the east of YERSEKE, in the immediate vicinity of the
dispatching facilities, in places with the oldest, most fossilised and least silted peat.  The mussels will be revitalised and cleared of sand in this resistant and very flat ground crossed by countless currents.     The number of overflow beds is strictly limited.
The water in the overflow beds is clear, rising up to 3 metres during high tide, and cleared entirely at low tide.
The mussels are also very well protected against strong winds and high waves. The mussels are deposited there during high tide, and are spread manually during low tide.  This is very labour intensive, but indispensable to guarantee a quality product without sand.
These immense reservoirs can contain 10,000 tonnes of mussels over an area of 250 hectares.  The quality of the water is sampled periodically for testing purposes, as the wholesaler is required to obtain a health certificate for the sale.

3.5 SALE

The mussels may still swallow sand during the last collection. They will thus be subjected to one last growout in special basins equipped with pumps and filters that bring clean and fresh seawater constantly.     They are then sorted and trimmed in preparation for shipment.
Machines are used to remove mussels that are too small, empty shells, seaweeds and above all the byssal threads.
The latter operation is carried out with two rollers turning in reverse.
Laid out on a treadmill, they are inspected one last time before they are put in 15, 25 or 30 kg bags.
Very high consumer demand over many years has led to packaging in 1, 2 or 3 kg bags.  All these mussels are in fact packaged so that they are ready to cook.
The YERSEKE plants have a packaging and shipping capacity of 30 tonnes/hour and process 100,000 tonnes per year.
This capacity puts the Netherlands among the very top mussel producers in the world.
Although consumption in the Netherlands is advancing constantly, the largest part of the shipments is for export, with Belgium and France being the biggest customers.
These shipments are dispatched by refrigerated trucks.
A considerable portion of these molluscs is nonetheless processed in tins, the best known of which are:   – mussels with vinegar  – mussels Niçoise style  – mussels with snail garlic
An increasingly larger quantity is now shelled and then deep frozen, making it possible to enjoy Zealand mussels year round.

GOLDEN MUSSEL TROPHY

Rudy Vanlancker has always been extremely attentive to the notion of team spirit, the pride of being part of a company present for more than a century in the Belgian capital.  He organises a convention every year for all the franchisees and direct employees of the Group.

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