This is an edited version of an article I had published in Food & Wine journal in September 2012 – which included some superb photographs provided by Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc, provided for my one-time use. The photograph below is my own and shows the mountains of sea salt commercially harvested on Mallorca – rather than the hand-harvested flor de sal – to give you an idea of the dazzling stark beauty of this corner of the island. If you visit Mallorca, a visit to this area and to Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc is highly recommended. Sunnies are essential on a bright day!
Type ‘gourmet salt’ into Google and it will find you more than 32 million results. There’s never been such a wide choice of the oldest and most used seasoning – even though we’re constantly being advised to reduce our daily salt intake. One type is particularly prized for its artisanal production and purity, and has been referred to as the caviar of salts. Delicate in flavour and texture, it’s a finishing salt, added by the chef or cook, or at the table.
The salt marshes of Guérande in the Loire-Atlantique, south of Brittany, are probably the best-known source of this fleur de sel, which has been harvested by hand from the waters of the Atlantic since the 9th century. Flor de sal (as it’s known locally) is also harvested in Portugal and Spain. On the Spanish mainland, the major source is the Ebro Delta (Tarragona) – home to 970 hectares of salt pans. The Balearic Islands are also important Mediterranean sources: Ibiza was once better known for its salt than for the nightlife with which it’s often associated today. The Romans, Phoenicians, and other ancient cultures harvested sea salt in the southernmost part of sister island Mallorca.
Mallorca’s gastronomic reputation owes something to an enterprising Swiss-German woman, who moved to the island in 2002. The previous year, Katja Wöhr had been fascinated by the harvesting of fleur de sel during a visit to France. She came to Mallorca to be the first person to harvest and commercialize flor de sal from the salt marshes behind Es Trenc, the 3.5-kilometre-long white sand beach within an officially protected area that’s home to some 180 species of birds. In 2003, after obtaining the necessary licence, Katja and a friend began to harvest flor de sal manually, using the traditional French rake known as a lousse. Initially, they bagged the crystals and sold them, alongside an honesty box, at the entrance to the salt marshes. Visitors to Es Trenc beach would buy the salt as a souvenir.
The early involvement of Marc Fosh – the first British chef in Spain to have his cuisine recognised with a Michelin star, and now owner of two acclaimed restaurants (Simply Fosh and Misa Braseria) in Palma de Mallorca – was key to the product’s early success.
“When Katja told me about her intention to produce flor de sal in Mallorca, I thought it was an inspired idea. I’d already been using my own home-made flavoured salts in my kitchen, and suggested producing flavoured flor de sal too,” Marc explains. “We had several different tastings over the following weeks and finally decided on black olive, Mediterranean herbs, and hibiscus, as the first flavours.” Today’s range includes the limited editions produced each year, using local organic ingredients. “There are lots of flavoured salts from all over the world on the market these days,” Mark continues, “but Katja was a real trailblazer and I was extremely happy to play a small part in the success of Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc.”
The formation and harvesting of flor de sal
The climatic conditions in this part of Mallorca are perfect for the creation of flor de sal. This part of the island receives only a third of the island’s average rainfall. Summers are long and harvesting can be done from May until October. The delicate salt crystals are formed when there’s an optimal combination of sunshine, wind and low air humidity, allowing a fine layer of crystals to form on the surface of the pools – like a layer of intensely white ice.
Gathering the crystals with a lousse is an artisanal task, requiring sensitivity and patience, because only the upper layer contains all the beneficial minerals that make this product a healthier salt choice. Harvesting is done just before dusk, and the arrival of damper evening air which would destroy the crystals. Today, some 15 people are involved in the process. The flor de sal is put into baskets, made from natural materials, and dried under the sun the next day. Next stop is the workshop, where some is enriched with herbs or spices, and the product is packaged by hand. The plain variety has nothing added or removed, making it a 100 per cent natural product.
Flor de sal contains more than 80 minerals and trace elements. Compared to common sea salt, it has double the amount of potassium and calcium, and 16-20 times the quantity of magnesium – the first element to rise to the surface in the crystallization process. Magnesium is also a natural flavour enhancer and, as a result, only a small amount of flor de sal is needed – reducing the intake of sodium chloride. I have several varieties of Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc in my own kitchen and because it’s only necessary to use it sparingly, a 150g pot can last for up to 12 months.
Gourmet essential gone global
Today, Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc is also found in the kitchens of some of the best chefs, and sold around the world in specialist stores. You can also buy it online on the Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc website and at the company’s four shops on Mallorca, including one at the salt marshes.
If you’ve never tried flor de sal or fleur de sel, it’s worth reducing your intake of ordinary salt to make room for this gastronomic gift from the sea.