Salt, while commonplace in today’s shops and offered liberally–complimentary at even the most everyday eateries–was once revered and traded almost ounce-by-ounce for gold in 100 BC. Its once prized value also led to the origin of such idioms as “worth his salt”. If you are interested in the evolution of salt, its history is meticulously captured in Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History. Be forewarned it is a fascinating read, but only for the most committed of readers.
What is true about most hand-crafted objects which later through industrialization and mass production become prevalent, is true for salt. While the commonplace table salt can run as low as $1.50 per pound, true artisan salts such as fleur de sel (“flower of salt” in French) is hand raked and harvested from the top layer of salt beds situated along islands and coastal regions…and commands a much higher price. The difference in price is reflected in the results. Just like the distinction between a Timex and a Rolex.
For example, Fleur De Sel De Camargue French Sea Salt which I received this past holiday season, can be procured for almost $40 per pound. The technique of gathering the salt is akin to historical methods and its subsequent scarcity drives up the price.
While industrial methods of salt production usually optimizes on uniformity and purity of salt, these more traditional means look to capture what I like to affectionately coin, the “terroir” of salt beds. It is the inclusion of minerals in addition to sodium chloride that provides the unique flavors so prized in fleur de sel. The Fleur De Sel De Camargue French Sea Salt has a brightness, sweetness and complexity in flavor profile not found in table salt. If you don’t believe me, just perform a blind taste test.
I’ve just started using this fleur de sel from Camarague and I look forward to seasoning my fresh tomatoes and salads with it. I would recommend you use this salt sparingly as a finishing salt (aka. please do not use it to bake brownies unless they are sublimely gourmet). Otherwise, like a well-aged balsamic vinegar, it will be a waste.
Is Fleur de Sel from Le Saunier de Camargue a worthy addition to my California kitchen? Absolutely.