After having eaten our galettes and crêpes and as we were making our way back towards the continent, we stopped at one of the many salt marshes as I wanted to bring back some coarse sea salt and fleur de sel. And what a better place to do that than in Noirmoutier!
The salt marshes where we stopped are called Marais Salants de Bonne Pogne and owned by the family Petitgas. We were only going to stop for a few minutes to buy some salt but were told we could get a visit of the salt marshes too. Learning more about an ingredient I use everyday was definitely a great thing.
The salt pans are covered with clay and whenever the sea water has evaporated, the coarse sea salt is pushed and pulled from the bottom, then left to dry in a small pile. The clay residues go through the salt like a sieve leaving a pile of clean salt grains. It takes about two days for a salt pan to refill and each time, about 90 kilos of coarse sea salt are collected (depending on the season and the weather). The salt is then added to a bigger pile so it can be stored and dried for later consumption.
Dylan then showed us how the fleur de sel is harvested. For this process, he used a different kind of rake to pull the fleur de sel from the surface of the water where it sits. Before drying, it has a light pink colour because of a little algae found in the water (the same that is eaten by pink flamingos). Like the coarse sea salt, the fleur de sel is then left in separate small piles to dry and whiten with the process. We got to taste the fleur de sel just out of the water and it was... well, salty! But also very delicate, no wonder why you do not cook with it but just use it to season.
The Marais de Bonne Pogne produce between 15 and 250 tons of coarse sea salt every year (the weather plays a big part in the variation of the production). The fleur de sel amount represents 10% of the year tonnage production. It is then sold on the spot, but also in France and Canada.
All in all, Dylan gave us an excellent visit. We all learned a lot about sea salt that day and now that I have a big bag of coarse sea salt and a smaller one of fleur de sel, I will really appreciate remembering where it comes from every time I use them.
Do you often cook with coarse sea salt or season with fleur de sel? And do you know where the salt you use come from?
Those salt marshes are located on route de la Guérinière on the island.