The intriguing work of salt shepherds


Many recipes get their final flourish from a sprinkling of special salt, and one of the most vaunted of all finishing salts is fleur de sel. Jamie Feldmar of indexed magazine Saveur takes us on a journey to the south of France to view the harvest, performed by a small group of men known as salt shepherds.

The use of salt can be traced back as far as recorded history. Says Feldmar, “Empires have been built and destroyed over the stuff, and it’s been used as currency (even today, the word “salary” comes from the Latin salarium, or “salt money.”) There are even stores dedicated to nothing but salt, like The Meadow, a mini-chain of upscale boutiques owned by Mark Bitterman, author of the book Salted.

The article delves into the months-long process involved in making fleur de sel from Mediterranean water that filters into canals and pools in the Camargue region in the south of France. In addition to the physical process, Feldmar describes the small group of men who rake the fleur de sel off the surface of the water. The work is lonely and difficult, yet the men persevere. Those who rise to the top of their profession are known as sauniers, or master salt shepherds.

These shepherds “monitor the weather and the water with a Yoda-like intensity. Making salt, you see, is really about water, wind and sunlight, so it’s good to keep a Zen attitude about the work. “My job is to observe nature,” says Patrick Ferdier, a saunier who’s been there for 30-plus years.” Continue reading on the Saveur website

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  • ellabee  on  September 16, 2015

    The book Salt by Mark Kurlansky will change the way you look at the world — a must-read for anyone interested in food history, or history period.

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