Littlenecks are the smallest of the hard shell clam family. They are tenderer and mellower tasting than their Cherrystone cousins – exceedingly sweet and reminiscent of an ocean mist.
In the late-1800s small hard shell clams from Little Neck Bay, Long Island were served in the world-famous restaurants of New York and several European capitals. Eventually, the term "Little Neck" or "Littleneck" came to be used as this size category of hard clams, regardless of where they originate.
There are ~2000 different kinds of clams but only two main groups sold commercially, softshelled and hard-shelled. Soft-shell does not mean the clam has a shell that is soft to the touch, rather it refers to the clams with thinner more brittle shells. Hard-shelled clams have a strong shells and can tolerate higher salinity. Hard-shelled clams are found in tidal areas along the east coast of the US and Canada and the west coast of the UK. There are also hard-shelled clams in the US Pacific Northwest called manilas. They are an invasive species. There are two varieties of US East Coast hard-shelled clams referred to as quahogs (the Indian word for clam), but the clams are more commonly named according to their size/age. The size of a clam is a measure of the width across its hinge or the thickness. As a clam gets older, it grows larger. It is important to note that vendors may have different grading systems. The smaller sizes are usually farmed-raised, while the larger sizes tend to be wild product.