Jorge Filipe Raiado of Sal Marim knows his salt. Since taking over the salt business in 2007 he has been perfecting the art of flor de sal or (sea salt) in the idyllic surrounding of Castro Marim, a nature reserve in the Algarve.
“We are here to preserve what we have,” he tells us on a visit to harvest salt together with Hans Neuner chef of the two Michelin star restaurant Ocean at the Vila Vita Parc in the Algarve.
The salt pans have been there since the Romans with canals which bring in the sea water on a daily basis especially during the hot summer months.
The sea salt is drawn into the salt pans and the water is allowed to evaporate. Most of the water goes to the bottom of the salt pans and becomes ordinary sea salt but some salt crystals float on the surface of the water forming a delicate crust of crystals which is collected by hand.
This type of salt called flower of salt can only be collected when it is very sunny , dry and with slow, steady winds.
It is a beautiful place where Jorge and his small team collect the salt crystals which form on the surface of the pans. It is laborious work which needs to be carried out each day when the weather permits. Leave it longer and the ‘flor de sal’ turns to sea salt which does not interest Jorge.
At the salt pans, Jorge welcomes Michelin star chefs as well as people who are interested in the origins of the salt which has been essential throughout history.
We are there with Hans as well as Kurt Gillig, managing director of Vila Vita Parc where the two Michelin star restaurant Ocean is housed.
Harvesting the sea salt crystals is hard work particularly on a hot summer’s day when the temperature soars to more than 34 degrees but the reward is a surprise, cooking live clams on rock salt. The simplicities of life don’t get much better than this.
Jorge has been slowly building the brand and working on raising awareness on the origins of the salt and why it is different to the most recognised salt crystals in the world (Maldon).
“When we are not working on collecting the flor de sal during the winter months, we are focusing on the branding, on the sales and on making the product known,” he says.
His passion and knowledge about salt is evident. He is wearing a tee-shirt with “I ‘salt’ you and that is what he does as he encourages us to throw a handful of salt into the air while he takes a photo on his iPhone. I offer him my camera but when he shows us the results he tells me that the effect would not have been the same without the iPhone.
We go into the workshop where he cooks the clams and shares a beautiful wine the Covela which has been revived by a journalist friend.
We leave the salt pans but not before Hans picks up a bag of these edible and beautifully formed salt crystals.