Traditional salt-making, hand harvesting
In the early 1990s, João Navalho, a microbiologist fresh out of graduate school, came to the salt marshes in the Algarve region with a handful of young partners to grow and harvest microalgae. The business foundered…After years of frustrated effort, the partners suddenly changed course. “We looked around and said, ‘We’re stupid!”‘ Navalho recalled. “We have a lot of land here. What we should do with the salinas is produce salt!”…
Like everything else in this undertaking, the answer was staring them in the face. Living on the edge of the marshes was Maximino António Guerreiro, a sunburned retired salt worker with a grizzled beard and missing teeth, who started harvesting here with his father more than four decades ago.
In 1997, the salt project began. Guerreiro cleaned out and rebuilt the long-abandoned patchwork of rectangular, clay-lined salt beds. With young workers from Eastern Europe, he opened sluices from the sea and set up a damming system to control the water flow. He shared the secrets of salt: how to measure evaporation levels and determine the correct salt density and water temperature, when to add water and to rake and skim.
Two years later, Necton, the salt company that Navalho created here, produced its first salt crop. Now it is one of the region’s new salt pioneers, struggling to revive what was once a flourishing trade in this part of Portugal. They are trying to persuade consumers of the health and taste benefits of handmade, nonindustrial salt and to compete in an increasingly sophisticated global salt market. “Life begins in the ocean,” Navalho said. “What we are selling is ocean salt water without the water. Call it sea dust.”
To many people, salt is salt. But to those for whom it is a gourmet condiment, few varieties compare to the crème de la crème of salt known as fleur de sel, harvested by gently skimming the white, lacy film from the surface of salty beds when weather conditions in summer allow.
RTFA. Lots of interesting history. A fair piece of info about the craft.
I have a favorite sea salt – though I won’t bring it up since it has naught to do with the article. I think all the methods and styles have a place – just like all the denominations of olive oil or where your favorite scallops grow. The flavor is in the taste buds of the taster.