Thursday, 11 August 2011

A Pinch of Salt

Andrew Shepherd is a chef living here in the valley.  He’s cooked across Canada, throughout southern Australia, and had an award winning run at Sage Café in Fielding, New Zealand.  For the past few years, he’s been working with retail gourmet foods.

In January of last year, Andrew donned hip waders and ventured out into the tidal waters off Cherry Point to gather sea water in an array of 30 litre plastic jugs.  He boiled away the water in huge vats in his front yard, packaged the residual salt, and Vancouver Island Salt Company was born.

Locally produced, unrefined, artisanal salts like Andrew produces will always be more expensive than the rock salt you buy in a box at the grocery store.  I purchase them anyway. 

Unrefined sea salt (the kind of salt Vancouver Island Salt Company produces and markets) contains minerals and micro-nutrients absorbed from the sea water.  It is a source of magnesium and iodine.  Both contribute to the support of cardiovascular health, help maintain bone density, help regulate sugar metabolism, and help sustain reproductive health and strong immune systems. [1],[2]   (Iodine has been added to processed rock salt for more than 85 years as part of a program to help prevent iodine deficiency related illness.)

Unrefined sea salt has a stronger flavour than refined rock salt, so you need use less of it in your recipes.  With concerns about sodium consumption much in discussion these days, that’s something to consider when purchasing salt for home cooking.

VISC also sells salt that has been smoked with cherry, maple or alder wood.  These smoked salts are intended for finishing and have a distinctly smoky taste and aroma.  A little bit of this flavour goes a long way so these salts can be used sparingly, making them—pound for pound—a very good bargain.

Smoked salts are excellent for use with any white fish, roasted veggies, fresh greens with olive oil, chicken, and lean cuts of pork.  Andrew suggests making a dipping station for bread with a bowl of olive oil, a bowl of balsamic vinegar, and a bowl of smoked salt; very tasty and a lovely presentation when you have guests.[3]

Vancouver Island Salt Company is the first business of its kind in our area.  They sell their salts, both natural and smoked, to restaurants and retailers on Vancouver Island, the lower mainland, and even as far away as Ontario.  We’re lucky to have them.  This wonderful local sea salt adds great dimension to our locavore diet.

I admire the kind of vision it requires to look at something we see every day and take for granted and, instead, see something new there that we can use.  I admire the ambition and hard work it takes to bring that product to market.  I hope you’ll support this local endeavour.

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