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The marais salant of Guérande

I have a thing for the fleur de sel. The “flower of salt” is famously hand-harvested in Guérande, just south of Brittany, although there are other (mechanically collected) productions in Noirmoutier, Île de Ré and Camargue too. Moist to touch and pale silver-grey in colour, this fine salt has such a delicate taste that once you start to use fleur de sel, it’s hard to imagine going back to your average table salt. I couldn’t describe it but know that it doesn’t taste like any other salt in the world.

Guérande

Guérande

Just outside of the historical town of Guérande lies the salt marshes, the marais salant, where the fleur de sel is harvested. A complex series of waterways, including the traicts protected by Le Croisic and Pen Bron, channels the water of the Atlantic Ocean into shallow marshes; the water fills up the basins – also known as vasière – during high tide and is then guided to into the marshes known as the œillets via designated narrow water networks.

It is in these œillets where magic occurs. As the water evaporates, the depth of the water is reduced to about one centimetre or so, and a fina layer of salt crystals begin to form on the surface. Using a specific rake, the floating salt is then carefully gathered. The art of fleur de sel harvesting had been practiced for nearly 1,200 years, and previously, the paludiers were exclusively women.

Guérande

Guérande

Guérande

Guérande

Fleur de sel aside, the gros sel is also harvested from the same marshes. Collection of this grey coarse salt is less painstaking, raked in using a wooden lousse and gathered on circular clay “plates” flanking the œillets. They are also sold in large bags by the kilograms, although I couldn’t help but wonder, why would anyone need 5kg or 10kg bag of salt for?

After two to three visits to the marais salant, finally, I caught a glimpse of the salt collection process in person. I was beginning to think that the postcard images of mounts of salt was untrue, but August’s weather proved to be quite an effective evaporating agent. I love looking at the small mounts of salt gathered on the “plates”. Really, how often do you get to see mounts and mounts of salt?

Guérande

Guérande

Guérande

Guérande

I stock both fleur de sel and gros sel from Guérande for my kitchen. They are pricier than the typical table salt, but not really that much, considering the quality of taste they produce. A bag of 250g of fleur de sel and 1kg of gros sel straight from producers who set up stalls next to their œillets costs €3 and €1 respectively when I last went by, and that’s plenty to last me for over a year.

Normally, the coarse salt is used during cooking, and the fine salt to “finish” up a dish, sprinkled just before serving. I also have tendency to sprinkle the fine salt to the surface of the mixture of brownies or chocolate cake that’s ready for baking. Chocolate and fleur de sel make a wonderful pairing! You really ought to try it. If you don’t have the fleur de sel and would like to test taste some, let me know. I’ll see that you get a sample pack. ;)



Category: Europe, France, Travel

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2 scribbles & notes

  1. med says:

    interesting….maybe the unique taste is due to the water and environment surrounding the ‘plates’ ;) and that’s pretty cheap for one year or more of salt supplies of 2 types kekeke

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