What happens if you put a pan of sea water on the stovetop? In 1997, Alison and David Lea-Wilson walked to the edge of the Menai Strait on the island of Anglesey, one of the most scenic and pristine areas of the Welsh countryside, and filled a saucepan with salty water to find out. This kitchen experiment was the humble launch of one of the world’s premiere sea salt companies, Halen Môn.
I wrote about the background of Halen Môn and what chefs love about this particular sea salt in a story for Conde Nast Traveler: The Best Salt in the World Comes From Wales.
Before touring the Halen Môn factory, I strolled to the stony edge of the Menai Strait to see the sea salt’s raw material. The glassy water had a reflective quality, mirroring back clouds and hills on the other side of the strait. The first step of sea salt production is testing the current saltiness of the water (with a handy gadget called a refractometer). This is achieved by slipping into a waist-high rubber suit and wading out into the frigid water to gather a sample.
Inside the factory, I donned plastic shoe covers, the equivalent of a shower cap, and a smock over my clothes to enter the production area. Sea salt is harvested every morning; I was handed a shovel and given the chance to try my hand at the delicate process. Then I witnessed the rest of the production process — the salt is rinsed, drained, dried, and packed — before sitting down to a tasting.
It was my first pure sea salt tasting (tasting the salt solo, and not as say, a sprinkle on top of bread and butter). Before tasting Halen Môn sea salt, we tasted regular table salt for comparison. The table salt tasted sour and unpleasant; Halen Môn was bright and clean. Flavored sea salts came next — chili and garlic, umami, and vanilla. Each sprinkle on the tongue brought to mind how I’d use the salt in my kitchen; a package of vanilla sea salt came home with me for my morning oatmeal.
Photo credit: Halen Môn