Salt is the only mineral that we eat as a food and is an essential nutrient and universal ingredient.
Traditional artisan methods
At one time all salt was produced by traditional artisan methods that included solar evaporation, boiling brine or mining from deposits. Salt was a rare and valuable treasure that was even used as currency. From the mid nineteenth century industrial methods of producing salt reduced not only the availability of natural salt but also its appreciation. However, in the last few decades there has been an upsurge in the use of artisan salts not just to season a dish but to consider the “terroir” or “meroir” of a particular salt that specifically enhances a particular dish. We call this “salting mindfully”, a term that we have borrowed from our friend, Mark Bitterman, Master Selmelier. We will speak more about Mark and his work a little latter.
Different styles, grinds, colors, flavors and nuances
Avanti Savoia offers an assortment of more than 20 various salts from around the world which we usually just refer to as gourmet finishing salts. Different styles, grinds, colors, flavors and nuances have been a delight for the Avanti chefs to experiment with in our cooking school, La Cucina. It was also fun and interesting for us to offer a program recently on matching salts, foods and wine for the state convention of the Tennessee Viticultural and Enological Society. www.tvos.org
Grape growing and wine making
The TVOS (of which I am a member) was organized in 1973 is a group of private citizens who conduct and promote the art and science of grape growing (viticulture) and wine making (oenology). The first time I was invited to stage a demonstration for these folks was 20 years ago in 1993 and with my interest in regional foods and wines the society and I obviously shared much common ground. This gathering also included an award ceremony for the group’s amateur wine competition in which I participate as a judge.
The following is a brief description of the salt program that we presented.
Sun, wind, and seawater join forces in the famous salt ponds of Guérande to produce the delicate Fleurde Sel ("flower of salt"). The fine, light sea salt crystals are coveted by gourmands around the world for their subtle flavor and high concentration of minerals. Regarded as the "caviar of sea salts," this premium finishing salt will enhance the individual flavors in any dish you prepare. We sampled it with a classic French salt tasting combination: slices of bread spread with unsalted butter, and fresh radishes sprinkled with Fleur de Sel. This was paired with Mountain Valley Vineyard’s “Sonata” Sparkling Wine.
It is the utter simplicity of the next classic tasting combination that contains its appeal. Bread drizzled with Vantera Extra Virgin Olive Oil and seasoned with Salish Alder Wood Smoked Sea Salt. This distinctive salt is named for the indigenous people who first inhabited Washington State's Puget Sound. The salt crystals are slow-smoked over native Northwest Red Alder wood, the same trees used for centuries to smoke salmon. This artisan salt is a surefire seasoning favorite for finishing any dish prepared on the grill. Vantera is a blend of Ortice, Leccino and Raciopella olives from the Campania region of Italy. The succulent vegetal blend of grass and green tomato flawlessly balances the bitter and spicy overtones producing a lightly spicy after taste in this distinctive golden-yellow oil. Our wine for this tasting was Hillside Winery’s Red Zinfandel.
A slice of Honey Crisp apple sprinkled with Alaea Hawaiian Sea Salt gives us the opportunity to experience the clean combination of crisp, sweet and salty. A touch of Alaea- red baked volcanic clay - gives this natural sea salt its distinctive red color, adds a healthy dose of iron oxide, and seals in moisture. Traditionally this earthy artisan salt is used as a culinary seasoning, preservative, and in native healing and cleansing rituals. Although a little “outside of the box” we decided that Mountain Valley’s Rhubarb Wine created a provocative combination.
This really was a fun event and was well received by the participants. The opportunity to actually match food, salt and wine was most appealing to our sense of creativity. We were greatly assisted by Mark Bitterman’s gorgeous cookbook, Salted. Mark is Selmelier of The Meadow, an artisanal-product boutique. I had the opportunity to meet Mark at another event that we had both been invited to as presenters. Mark with his salts and me with our Avanti Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamic Vinegars. We had a great time combining our products for our own edification.
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