Can’t believe it has taken me until now to write about the salt, there again I’ve yet to post anything on Bacalhau, Cork or Port! Don’t worry those posts will be written one day, but for now lets focus on salt.
Guess some of us see the french phrase- Fleu de Sel – and assume it just means any old sea salt. Well I’ve learnt today that it doesn’t! It is the crème de la crème of sea salt, in fact the Portuguese salt workers call it ‘coalho’ – the curd. The following description of the Flower of Salt is taken the website of Necton – a salt producer in Olhão.
The Flower of Salt (Flor de Sal in Portuguese) is made up of light crystals in the form of pallets of extreme whiteness that form on the surface of the small parts of the salt evaporation pond forming a thin layer of salt that covers them. This layer is collected every day manually with a squeegee by the salt workers.
The traditional sea salt of Portugal is what lies below the ‘coalho’. This salt has also been collected manually from small ponds between May and September, and is dried in the sun for about a week after it has been collected. The use of the word traditional is essential as without it the sea salt you buy is likely to have been collected and cleaned by machines. Still sea salt but not quite the same as the mechanical processing will have removed many of the other minerals. Other salts you may find in your pantry are Maldon Sea Salt – a salt from Essex that has also been collected by evaporation but not in ponds as it goes through boiled in vats, and Rock Salts – which are from mines underground for example the coloured Himalayan Salts.
Our visits to the Algarve are the same as the migrating birds, and so I’ve yet to capture any photographs of the saltpans when they are in their season’. I’ve also not taken any photographs of the saltpans which produce table salt as obviously these are not open to the public. With the exception of the bag of salt, all of these photographs have been taken from the public paths close to our apartment in Olhão. Necton’s saltpans with their wonderful salt are about 1/2 mile further along, and you can buy their salt in any of the local supermarkets. The name of the salt by the way “Marnoto” is the name given to the people of the region that work at the salt evaporation ponds
The saltpans we regularly walk around are still being worked. We’re not 100% sure by who or what the salt from these pans is used for but suspect industrial given the length of time the ‘salt mountain’ has been sitting there. These areas are also not fully traditional as they use mechanical pumps to move the water and tractors to prepare the evaporation beds. I hope though the photographs do give you a feel and a little bit of insight into a Portuguese tradition which has been around since at least the 9th century if not earlier.