I’m sure we’re not the only travelers who look back on a trip wishing we had stayed longer in one place. No, we don’t wring our hands over decisions made nor directions taken, but we do often wish we had researched a bit more thoroughly, planned a little more.
And so it was, when we drove from the Loire Valley to the western coast along the Atlantic. “Rooms at the Inn” were in short supply due to the August tourist rush, so we were only able to stop for a brief visit in Guérande, before continuing north – definitely a do-over moment! We’d like to return again to enjoy the medieval fortified town and explore the paradise of salt marshes.
Guérande’s salt marshes represent 1,000 years of salt production between the Loire and Vilaine rivers. Perhaps the Romans discovered the technique that allows sea water to evaporate from open pans. Worked by paludiers, the salt flats formed a colorful mosaic that made the Bretagne peninsula quite rich during the early Middle Ages. Though there were slumps in production, the more efficient salt marshes today have enjoyed a real renaissance in popularity.
Now paludiers hand harvest sea salt in much the same manner that has been used over the past millennium. Sea water flows through the dyke at high tide and continues through a network of pools. Workers draw off water toward ditches, and the wind and sun hasten the drying action and evaporation. Gradually, the salt brine becomes concentrated, until it arrives in the last salt pan or “oeillet”. Salt crystals start to form with coarse grey salt at the bottom and delicate “fleur de sel” at the surface.
Paludiers collect the flavorful grey salt daily. The unrefined form is used in traditional cooking, while the finer “fleur de sel” is skimmed from the surface to provide subtle flavors to any good dish. The reputation of Guérande’s sea salt is a renowned favorite of many of the world’s great chefs.
If you won’t be making a journey to Guérande any time soon, you still can enjoy this delicate favorite. Just visit French Food Market for fleur de sel and many other fine French oils, vinegars, mustards and more.
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