8 oz - France
Untreated and unwashed, the sea salt of the Ile de Noirmoutier is naturally rich in mineral salts and trace elements. This makes it an exceptionally useful part of the diet. It makes a wonderful finishing salt for many dishes.
How is sea salt different from ordinary table salt?
Sea salt is harvested directly from the sea water in coastal areas. Artisan sea salt like this is harvested by hand using traditional methods, and it is dried in the sun, rather than through mechanical harvesting and drying methods.
Table salt, on the other hand, is mined from underground deposits of salt-bearing rock, and processed mechanically on a huge industrial scale. It is supplemented with iodine, and starch or phosphates may be added to keep it from clumping. The final product has a far less nuanced flavor and texture.
About this Fleur de Sel
Two-thirds of the surface of the Ile de Noirmoutier lies below sea-level. This extraordinary landscape, where land and sea merge indistinguishably, is the world of the salt-works. It is a landscape that has not changed for centuries, because human activity has remained the same. The works begun by Benedictine monks in the seventh century were completed with the great drainage projects (creating polders) carried out in the nineteenth century by the Jacobsen family.
For many years, salt provided the island's source of wealth, the trade reaching its peak between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. Flemish, English and Dutch ships would call in at the port of Noirmoutier to take on fresh supplies of salt before setting sail for ports in the far north. In the mid-nineteenth century, there were 30,000 salt pans on the island; today, only 3,000 are in use.
Most evaporation takes place during the sunniest months, June, July, and August, when the salt farmers continually rake their salt beds. Each day quantities of grey salt, sel gris, in the most saline ponds settles out and is harvested with wooden scoops and wheel barrows. Fleur de Sel forms during the hot hours of the afternoon, but only on days when the weather conditions are just right and a breeze coaxes the salt crystals to grow, downward from the surface. The water is covered with a thin veil of the lightest of salts, and the salt farmers collects it quickly, but gently skimming the water with the wooden 'lousse'.