FLEUR DE SEL: THE FLOWER OF SALT
Brittany is a peninsula in northwestern France famous for its seaside resorts and thousands of prehistoric megaliths, such as the Carnac stones. It is also the site of roughly 7,000 salt marshes that span 5,000 acres in Guérande, a region to the south, where “the caviar of sea salts” has been harvested since it was occupied by the Romans in the 9th century. Here, there are shimmering pools lined with rows of mulons (mounds of harvested salt) that scatter sunlight into a mosaic of blue, green, and pink shards of light that give the medieval town mystical appeal at dawn and dusk, and the paludiers who sustain them recognition as ancestral guardians and skilled artisans.
It has been said that fleur de sel is the extra-virgin olive oil of the salt world. Aside from being primarily a finishing salt, it is different from ordinary sea salt in several other ways. Although both are extracted from sea water, sea salt is the granular product that precipitates after complete evaporation, while fleur de sel is composed of pyramid-shaped crystals skimmed from the delicate crust that forms on the surface of the water as it evaporates, like cream from milk. Because the crystals stick together like pairs of snowflakes, it has a much higher moisture content and lingers on food and the tongue. The clay lining of the salt pans lends the salt an earthy grey tint, as well as a high mineral content.
An Ancient Art Nearly Lost
From June through September, fleur de sel is harvested the same way it has been since the year 868 – by hand. In fact, beyond wielding a lousse à fleur (a wooden rake) and similar hand-held tools, the only other mechanics involved are the movements of the wind and ocean that guide the Atlantic seawater through a series of meandering canals. Since the salt can only be harvested on a sunny, windless day, collection batches are small. An average daily yield is just 1 kilo, or a little more than 2 pounds.
In 1991, Le Guérandais Guérande salt received the coveted Label Rouge designation for exceptional quality and remains the only salt producer to earn it. In 2012, Guérande salt and fleur de sel were the first to be awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, a symbol granted by the European Union to products that possess characteristics true to its geographical origin.
The Fleur de sel that we offer is an authentic terroir salt that embodies the unique characteristics of its original environment. It is unwashed, unrefined, and void of additives with Nature & Progrès certification, a mark of superior quality and sustainable, organic practices. But, while the salt works have always been at the heart of the region’s culture and economy, both were sabotaged by large-scale salt mining and nearly vanished for good.
A Cooperative Cure
There are currently more than 15,000 œillets (crystallization ponds) in operation at Guérande, some of them dating to the Carolingian dynasty of the 8th century. After the mid-1800s industrialized salt mining and harvesting from the Mediterranean created a competitive environment that, over time, caused a significant downturn in the availability of experienced cultivators of French salt. In fact, the salt works may have succumbed to real estate developers and the tourism trade altogether if it weren’t for a handful of dedicated salt workers who gave the region and the profession new life, benefiting the economy and the ecosystem.
The salt marshes are a source of food and refuge for more than 72 breeding and 280 migrating species of birds. Plant life is equally abundant, with stands of sea purslane, fennel, statice and glasswort thriving on their banks.
The revival began in the 1980s with the development of a training program designed to attract a new generation of salt workers, the launch of an agricultural cooperative, and a visitor center that receives 70,000 visitors each year. The mission of The Salines de Guérande cooperative, exclusively owned by (at the time of this writing) 220 salt workers (16% of them women), is to foster a spirit of teamwork and fair equity practices that allow each paludier to receive a guaranteed, steady income from a sustainable harvest year-to-year.
Fleur de Sel (Gourmet Sea Salt), Flakes
This finishing salt is prized by bakers and candy makers for a variety of confections, most notably salted caramels. It adds satisfying crunch and a salty bite as a garnish for many foods, including grilled fish, meats, vegetables, eggs and even fresh fruit, ice cream and the rims of cocktail glasses. Enjoy the flaky crystals as they dust your dishes.
Tip: Not to be added WHILE cooking, instead add Fleur de sel AFTER cooking.
French Grey Salt (Dried), Coarse Grain
This large-granule sea salt is perfect for roasting foods in a salt crust, a means of cooking in which the food is entirely insulated with a paste of salt mixed with egg white or water. It is also suitable for general cooking and seasoning. Its grey color reflects its mineral-rich nature.
French Grey Salt (Dried), Fine Grain
This fine grain sea salt is suitable for the table and for enhancing the flavor of soups, sauces, breads, herbed butters and seasoning blends, such as Japanese gomasio (toasted, ground sesame seeds and salt).