Archive for the 'News & Musings' Category

Is Public Policy the Way to Pursue a Better Relationship to Salt?

At The Meadow we spend a lot of time talking with people in the shop about how to achieve the best flavor, texture, beauty, and nutrition in food.  Our mission is to help people find the salts and salting techniques that provide the best results for their tastes.  What we do not talk about is restricting sodium intake.  More on that later.

A new study, “Can Dietary Sodium Intake Be Modified by Public Policy?” published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology asserts that public health policy is neither a justified nor a productive way to regulate individual sodium intake:

As the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are currently under development and regulations surrounding sodium consumption are being considered, an analysis of evidence to be released online Thursday, Oct. 15, in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN) questions the scientific logic and feasibility of the decades-long effort to limit salt intake in humans.

After examining data from sodium intake studies worldwide and a critical body of neuroscience research on sodium appetite (innate behaviors that drive us to consume salt), researchers from the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis, and the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University found compelling evidence indicating that humans naturally regulate their salt intake within a narrowly defined physiologic range.

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Fleur de Sel Returns to Guérande

For two years now the saltmakers of Brittany, France, have watched the summer come and go without the appearance of so much as a grain of fleur de sel.  The fleur de sels from Guérande and the neighboring saltmaking villages of Ile de Ré and Ile de Noirmoutier have suffered the same plight.  And then this, as highlighted in “Le Telegramme”:

After two disastrous years, the salt fields of Guérande have reason to smile. The season was long and good. The 190 members of the cooperative of producers, «Les salines de Guérande», have harvested 14,000 tons of sel gris, which about or two thirds of the total production on the Guérande salt fields.  The remainder is produced by independent producers.  Add to this 650 tons of fleur de sel, their premium product.  This harvest is sufficient to provide the cooperative with three and a half years of reserves.

There have been rumors that fleur de sel has fallen into such short supply that the French have actually been forced to buy fleur de sel from Portugal and Mexico.  I’ve visited a number of the producers and cooperatives in Brittany and never found one that didn’t claim to still have reserves of their salt on hand, though none of them seemed terribly smug about it.  Now, 650 tons of fine fleur de sel, 14,000 tons coarse sel gris…  I can sleep at night again.

Asparagus, Salt and Sweet Brings the Farm Home to School Children

Asparagus and salt tasting EventNothing pleases children like asparagus. They just can’t get enough of it. So when you bring a few dozen pounds of asparagus to a school cafeteria, you expect to be inundated with boisterous, hungry faces, jockeying for position, beseeching you for more of the stuff.  Kids, there’s nothing like ‘em to remind you of the simple pleasures of the farm.

Such was our experience when Jennifer Turner Bitterman, co-founder of The Meadow, organized Farm Awareness Day, bringing together Corey Schreiber, James Beard Award winning chef and Farm-to-School food coordinator with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Nikole Williams, Program Manager of Nutritious Services for Portland Public Schools, and Paul Folkestad, an instructor and chef with the Western Culinary Institute.  The event was held in conjuction with PPS’s Local Lunch and Harvest of the Month program, tasting and playing with asparagus with the students of Laurelhurst Elementary School.

And amazingly, the kids, insofar as is possible within the rather bewilderingly frenetic 20 to 30 minutes that they were allotted for lunch, really did eat asparagus.

Jennifer, Corey, and Paul pursued a three stranded strategy in their campaign to a) feed children, b) wake them up to the unexpected pleasures lurking within a stalk of astringent green vegetable, and c) make the entire thing thought provoking and memorable enough to hopefully percolate down to conversation with the parents over dinner table back home.

Salted Asparagus Ice Cream EventStrand 1 of the strategy: grill some asparagus and serve it from a platter.  400 kids, lunching in three seatings, can motor through a substantial amount of asparagus, even if there only a minority cared to partake. Minority status notwithstanding, there were a surprising number who were more than willing to wolf down a stalk or two. In fact, in addition to what was served them, I spied dozens of kids skulking away from their seats to grab a stalk, shoving it down their gullets as they returned to their tables, often realizing just as they were about to retake their seats that they had, alas, finished their asparagus, and so would have to skulk away again to get more, and so repeated the circle of seeking, eating, returning, realizing, and re-seeking again and again, transformed by hunger into a sort of asparagus-inhaling perpetual motion machines. (Skulking’s sort of a figurative term, as they really just bounded up from their tables and ran across the cafeteria to Chef Folkestad, who was dispensing piles of thick, remarkably nicely-cooked stalks of asparagus as fast as he could.)

Mark Bitterman Serving Himalayan SaltStrand 2 of the strategy: give them the opportunity to personalize their vegetables with salt.  Jennifer thought it would help stimulate things if we played off the natural interest in things that are salty, cool, colorful, unique, and salty.  In other words, we allowed the kids to partake of the joys of finishing salt, which they did with gusto.  We brought three suitably dramatic finishing salts from The Meadow: warm and meaty Kauai Guava smoked sea salt, a rich red Alaea Volcanic sea salt, and a snappy charcoal gray Black Diamond Pyramid sea salt from Cyprus.  Hard to know what was the most popular, as the cafeteria was more or less engulfed in a white cloud of aerosolized Himalayan Pink rock salt that I was grating onto kids asparagus, hands, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and upturned smiling faces.

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Travel Advice? A 25 Day Salt Tour of Europe

Plan for Salt Tour of Western EuropeOur flight leaves just one day after I return from my first IACP conference, so the bags must be packed in advance.  Cigarette lighter power adapters for cell phones, my laptop, and various and sundry electronic accouterments, a new camera bag for my incredibly sexy new Nikon D90 (I usually carry it in a grocery bag), battery chargers and SD memory readers, 8 hulking travel books (so far): why are we so My handy leatherman, a Shrade actuallyladen with equipment, when I used to travel with a pocket knife, a spare pair of socks and a rain jacket?  Reasons.

We are on a safari, intent on face-time with the Big Game, the people who first inspired us in our love of salt.  Salt is produced in virtually every region of every country in the world, but some places strike home, transport us back to the stillness that comes only in the early years of culinary discovery: leaning against the dew-beaded fuel tank of my motorcycle in the pale morning, eating cold sardines as I watch the oyster boats return from the shoals.

italy, water, lollipopsWe fly from Portland to Nice, drive across the south of France and the north of Spain to Portugal, down that coast and into Portugal, a loop to Casa Blanca, and then back up through the Spanish mainland and up the west coast of France toward Normandy, and then to Paris for some R&R.  There is a lot of country in that drive.  Existential fear caused us to abandon Italy, Germany, Poland, and Slovenia to the summer.

We welcome suggestions for places to stay, people to meet, things to eat, beaches to swim, and rocks to climb.  Here is our itinerary:

April 6: Fly

April 7: Arrive in Nice, drive toward the Camargue, stay in Arles

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Kauai Guava Smoked Salt Photoshoot

Okay, the headline is an exaggeration.  There were no Brazilian supermodels, wind licking at their silky locks, licking their freshly salted lips.  Just me and a small pile of Kauai Guavawood Smoked salt.  Probably, the pile of smoked salt was too small…  My idea was to try to create the effect of a majestic, volcanic mountain, clouds brooding on its cascading shoulders.

Kauai Guava-wood Smoked Salt

Taken yesterday, under cloudy, neutral light while I was brushing my teeth (I forgot to do it earlier).

Kauai Guava-wood Smoked Salt yesterday.

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Portuguese Sea Salt from Portugal’s Algarve in New York Times

Hooray!  The New York Times does it again, gives salt a gander.  The Times has published a nice little piece on the story of João Navalho, who after failing in a business to produce and market beta-carotene grown in abandoned salt marshes, he took the more obvious path and returned the land to salt production.  Enlisting Maximino António Guerreiro, a traditional salt company was (re) born.  A good deal of salt from Portugal’s Algarve region is finding its way to the American and European markets, competing as Portuguese flor de sal with the French fleur de sel and other French sea salt.

Among the ten or so Fleur de Sel’s we carry, the French versions are predictably more popular than their Portuguese brethren.  Times’ writer Elaine Sciolino points out “…Mr. Navalho confesses that his team learned many of its techniques from Guérande, the Brittany-based cooperative that restored traditional salt-making to France in the 1970s and whose brand dominates the hand-harvested salt business. France produces about 80 percent of Europe’s hand-harvested salt and fleur de sel.”

Flor de Sal from Portugal’s Algarve RegionThe quality of any artisanal salt ranges from producer to producer.  I have found that João Navalho’s Necton salt company indeed produces a good flor de sal.  (We sell a hand-harvested artisanal sea salt from neighboring salt producer as Flor de Sal do Algarve.)  The Times story points out the challenges any buyer faces when deliberating artisanal salts: it is not always easy to know when a salt is in fact made by an artisanal: “Nico Boer, the German co-manager of the Marisol salt works in nearby Tavira, said one Portuguese salt producer sold more than a dozen tons of industrial salt to the French several years ago, passing it off as hand-harvested.”

The New York Times story, “From a Portuguese Marsh, Salt, the Traditional Way,” written by Elaine Sciolino, is classic New York Times journalism, packed with great insights into the people and place, but keeping a pole’s distance between the writer and any observations of the heart of the matter: in this case, the culinary and other benefits driving the growing global use of finishing salts.

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