It's a wonder Kumamotos still attract such a cult following. In recent years, as oyster farms have rushed the rare breed to restaurants to meet rising demand, Kumos have suffered a big drop in size and flavor. Taylor Shellfish Farms, based in Shelton, Washington, hopes to reverse the trend with its new cache of high-quality Kumos, which it just began selling after a 20-year breeding experiment.

Taylor's oysters come from a strain of Kumos that the company discovered in the 1980s in a forgotten oyster bed in Puget Sound. These oysters were the remnants of a colony left over from the 1950s, when Kumo oyster seeds were first imported from Japan. Unlike many Kumos, which are hybridized with Pacific gigas, Taylor's are purebred.

"With our Kumos, you get that toothy texture and sweet, custardy flavor," CEO Bill Taylor says. He explains that the company waited nearly two decades to release the oysters because it took that long for them to start reproducing at a satisfactory rate. Now Taylor ships 60,000 Kumos a week, twice as much as all other producers combined. "These Kumos have a consistently good size," raves Michael DiNino, buyer for Shaw's Crab House in Chicago. "Because of their rich, buttery flavor, we call them the oyster virgin's favorite" (360-426-6178 or