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Fleur de Sel


menton1
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My vote is a resounding "NO!!!" Yes, all salt stimulates the basic sensation on the tongue; but then, like wine, there are much more complexities than the mere salty sensation.

It seems that the complex flavors of fleur de sel are because of the minerals that accompany it. Size of the crystals are also a factor. My favorites are the ones from Brittany, from the Guérande. In order to be harvested there, the wind and surf must be just right, hence production quantities are limited.

The Brittany varieties usually come in a little cloth sack tied up with string. They also usually have no non-stick chemical agents added, so it behooves one to store in a cool, dry place. Of course, the complexity of this wonderful salt is lost in cooking, this is best used right before consumption on meats, fish, vegetables, anything that you like salt on.

In Paris, I have found the biggest selection of Guérande salt at Izrael, a lovely little spice shop on rue Francois-Miron in the Marais. If you've never tried fleur de sel, go for it! And it also makes a lovely gift, for anyone who realizes that "salt is not just salt"!!

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My vote is a resounding "NO!!!" Yes, all salt stimulates the basic sensation on the tongue; but then, like wine, there are much more complexities than the mere salty sensation. 

It seems that the complex flavors of fleur de sel are because of the minerals that accompany it.  Size of the crystals are also a factor.  My favorites are the ones from Brittany, from the Guérande.  In order to be harvested there, the wind and surf must be just right, hence production quantities are limited. 

The Brittany varieties usually come in a little cloth sack tied up with string.  They also usually have no non-stick chemical agents added, so it behooves one to store in a cool, dry place.  Of course, the complexity of this wonderful salt is lost in cooking, this is best used right before consumption on meats, fish, vegetables, anything that you like salt on. 

In Paris, I have found the biggest selection of Guérande salt at Izrael, a lovely little spice shop on rue Francois-Miron in the Marais.  If you've never tried fleur de sel, go for it!  And it also makes a lovely gift, for anyone who realizes that "salt is not just salt"!!

It's been my experience that fleur de sel is not particularly distinguished by its complex flavor. My impression of fleur de sel as opposed to it's cousin sel gris is that the former is rather pure and the latter far less so resulting in a grey color, not to mention small bits of flotsam and jetsam, especially if procured close to the source, at least in Guérande. Packaging is irrelevant. I prefer to buy it in plastic bags from ladies selling salt from card tables on one of the paths (I'm hesitant to call them roads) in the salt gathering area. I'm not recommending a trip just to buy a kilo or two of salt, but it is an interesting landscape worth a short detour for anyone in the area and there is the reward of actually buying salt as we once did on the side of the salt flats. The kiloo of sel gris is a real bargain, but you'd risk a hernia bringing back inexpensive packages for all your friends.

I'm also not aware of any loss of flavor in cooking. Salt simply dissolves in liquid, faster at a higher temperature and the flavor is less pronounced in the same dish when eaten cold, than when eaten warm. Terrines, ballotines, etc. meant to be eaten cold should be slightly over salted.

What distinguishes fleur de sel is its crystalline structure. Under an electron microscope it will be seen as having almost barb like ends. Common rock salt and most refined salt, including sea salt, is pretty smooth by comparison. It's these barbs that help it stick better to food. The size of its crytals also provides, what many see--or taste as, just the right crunch and "hit" of salt on the tongue.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I agree with Bux here.

I also recommend trying Maldon salt from England.

Not very expensive--It is a sea salt that comes in relatively large

"flakes" which are very nice as a finishing salt for their salinity also their crunch. (I love it on Sea Scallops etc).

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You may wish to check out this  eGullet discussion on various salts.

And pay even closer attention to Andiesenji's incredible salt collection photographs!  :wink:

I actually found a few more varieties when my housekeeper and I were straightening the pantry.

Well, one thing for sure, it will never go bad!

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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It's been my experience that fleur de sel is not particularly distinguished by its complex flavor.

Perhaps you have not been using the actual Guérande Fleur de sel. There is a variety from the Camargue that is harvested by machine, and not subject to the strict hand-processing methods used in Brittany. I have always gotten a subtle sensation of violets when using this salt. This would be totally lost in cooking, so I disagree with you on that matter as well.

Here is an excerpt from USA Today's Maria Puente:

Gourmet Salt

In Guérande France, Women do the work

Salt is not just salt!   A visit to Guérande. On France's Atlantic coast, in a shallow bay,  marshes where salt production has reached the pinnacle of artistry; the basic materials are simple: seawater, sun, and wind.

Salt is what remains after sun and wind do their evaporation work.

The salt smells faintly of violets. Lest you think this is a sales gimmick, a cunning way to get daft "foodies" to pay $20 a pound for salt instead of less than 50 cents, which ordinary table salt costs,

read the entire article here:

http://new.cbbqa.com/articles/Salt/SaltStory.html

You will have to scroll down to the middle of the page to the specific article about Guerande salt...

Edited by menton1 (log)
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It's been my experience that fleur de sel is not particularly distinguished by its complex flavor.

Indeed it is not. It is mostly interesting because of its texture and, such as it is commercialized, has no particular taste in itself, or rather any difference in taste is conditioned by the texture. Texture is what I buy it for, but I always go for the cheapest and I prefer grey salt in general.

I used to gather fleur de sel from the salt marshes of Guérande in the late 70's, when staying with a friend who had a few "oeillets", i.e. patches of salt marsh to exploit. We would work the traditional way: first, I'd collect the thin layer of fleur de sel from the surface of the water in a sort of rectangular spade, and throw it onto a heap on the ground. Then, when I had collected all the surface layer, he'd rake the bottom of the marsh to get the grey salt. The fleur de sel, when new, had a pinkish color and a very strong smell of violet. That's when it has all its mineral and organic principles, which it loses after a few weeks. Only fresh fleur de sel was supposed to be commercialized and used; as it whitened, it lost much of its interest. Later, in the 1980's, I suppose the salt makers of Guérande and other places too discovered the economic potential of fleur de sel, and they began to sell it as a luxury product notwithstanding the loss of its specific virtues. To me, it makes no sense to buy fleur de sel for a fortune when it is past its prime, since then it is nothing but salt, albeit with an interesting texture. Grey salt ages much better.

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Perhaps you have not been using the actual Guérande Fleur de sel.  There is a variety from the Camargue that is harvested by machine, and not subject to the strict hand-processing methods used in Brittany.  I have always gotten a subtle sensation of violets when using this salt.  This would be totally lost in cooking, so I disagree with you on that matter as well.

The subtle sensation of violets can only be felt when the salt is newly collected. As the salt dries, it disappears. Fleur de sel is almost never commercialized while the violet smell is still in it. And this particularity is only for fleur de sel from the Atlantic coast. There is absolutely no violet smell in fleur de sel de Camargue, which is also a commercial gimmick but at least the Guérande fleur de sel could claim some authenticity in the days when you could get it directly from the producer. Fleur de sel de Camargue was developed when some people realized how much money they could make from it after seeing how well Guérande did. At any rate, whatever is left from the violet smell is reduced to nothing when fleur de sel is used on food.

The salt smells faintly of violets. Lest you think this is a sales gimmick, a cunning way to get daft "foodies" to pay $20 a pound for salt instead of less than 50 cents, which ordinary table salt costs,

The "foodie" argument is not very pertinent when you figure how much some foodies will pay for overhyped gimmicks. Indeed fleur de sel, when it is sold quite dry and far away from the marsh, IS a sales gimmick, certainly not worth its price. However I will certainly not blame the paludiers from Guérande and Batz-sur-Mer for setting this up, for this gimmick very probably saved the marshes from destruction and development. About twenty years ago, the salt marshes were threatened because the grey salt was not profitable enough. If the paludiers have managed to save their jobs, their craft and their produce through overcharging for dried-up fleur de sel, so much the better for everybody. If they hadn't done that, maybe their wonderful grey salt would have disappeared and that would have been a dramatic loss.

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Perhaps you have not been using the actual Guérande Fleur de sel.  There is a variety from the Camargue that is harvested by machine, and not subject to the strict hand-processing methods used in Brittany.  I have always gotten a subtle sensation of violets when using this salt.  This would be totally lost in cooking, so I disagree with you on that matter as well.

The subtle sensation of violets can only be felt when the salt is newly collected. As the salt dries, it disappears. Fleur de sel is almost never commercialized while the violet smell is still in it. And this particularity is only for fleur de sel from the Atlantic coast. There is absolutely no violet smell in fleur de sel de Camargue, which is also a commercial gimmick but at least the Guérande fleur de sel could claim some authenticity in the days when you could get it directly from the producer. Fleur de sel de Camargue was developed when some people realized how much money they could make from it after seeing how well Guérande did. At any rate, whatever is left from the violet smell is reduced to nothing when fleur de sel is used on food.

The salt smells faintly of violets. Lest you think this is a sales gimmick, a cunning way to get daft "foodies" to pay $20 a pound for salt instead of less than 50 cents, which ordinary table salt costs,

The "foodie" argument is not very pertinent when you figure how much some foodies will pay for overhyped gimmicks. Indeed fleur de sel, when it is sold quite dry and far away from the marsh, IS a sales gimmick, certainly not worth its price. However I will certainly not blame the paludiers from Guérande and Batz-sur-Mer for setting this up, for this gimmick very probably saved the marshes from destruction and development. About twenty years ago, the salt marshes were threatened because the grey salt was not profitable enough. If the paludiers have managed to save their jobs, their craft and their produce through overcharging for dried-up fleur de sel, so much the better for everybody. If they hadn't done that, maybe their wonderful grey salt would have disappeared and that would have been a dramatic loss.

And don't forget, some of the proceeds are earmarked for protection and nurturing of the wild horses! Several years ago I bought a box (little wood box with a linen bag of salt inside), along with a linen bag of rice from Camarque. Inside was a little booklet explaining about the protectorate for the wild horses and how some of the proceeds of these sales protected the horses and their place in the wild. I thought it was a nice touch. I am a sucker for animal rights.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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And don't forget, some of the proceeds are earmarked for protection and nurturing of the wild horses!  Several years ago I bought a box (little wood box with a linen bag of salt inside), along with a linen bag of rice from Camarque.  Inside was a little booklet explaining about the protectorate for the wild horses and how some of the proceeds of these sales protected the horses and their place in the wild.  I thought it was a nice touch.  I am a sucker for animal rights.

Oh, now that I know it can help protecting the wild horses, I'm even going to like fleur de sel de Camargue! :laugh:

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And with regards to the violet taste, it looks like Menton1 has got a source for the good stuff!

Whatever the source, he was lucky enough to get newly-gathered fleur de sel and it probably still was a bit damp in the bag. If he had bought from the same source a few weeks later, there would hardly have been any violet smell, and no taste at all. Sometimes you get new fleur de sel, that happens.

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I'm with Ptipois on preferring grey salt for cooking, although I'm not sure I can actually taste the difference. I may simply prefer the fact that it's unrefined and hope the impurities add a certain je ne sais quoi to the dish. I do however, prefer fleur de sel for sprinkling on certain foods just as I'm about to eat them. I value the structure and the crunch. I've never spent much time in the UK, but have found Malden salt to be rather popular in Spain and I associate it very much with certain dishes such as those small green Galician peppers that are simply roasted or fried and served with Malden salt. They are mild peppers, except for the occasional one that's very much not mild.

The above referenced page is actually rather confusingin that it blurs any distinction between the two salts from Guerande. Both fleur de sel and sel gris are produced there. Both the web page and the citation above are quite unclear as to which salt smells of violets, or if both do. I believe Ptipois is correct in that it's a passing aroma, best experienced not from the salt, but along the marshes. Ptipois' comments about dry salt are intersting too. The grey salt I've purchased in plastic bags is quite moist when it's sold, but it doesn't cake. I suspect it's the structure of the crystal. For what it's worth, my wife prefers to sprinkle fine salt on her food and to use it in cooking as well. I suppose that's because she's used to it and can estimate how much to use out of habit. She doesn't much like either of the salts from Guérande. Her loss.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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All unrefined salts from the Atlantic are very good. In France that includes Guérande and Batz, l'île de Noirmoutier, l'île de Ré, and perhaps l'île d'Yeu but I'm not sure about that one. Salts of the French Mediterranean South are a different matter since they're far less rich in mineral and organic elements. Southern fleur de sel is a joke, since fleur de sel keeps very few of the minerals when dry. As long as one chooses fleur de sel for its texture and shape, it is a good salt. But its taste and organic composition do not justify the high price.

Fleur de sel is more expensive because it is rarer than grey salt, there's less of it to gather. Also, since it is a naturally refined salt, without the traces of marsh mud that are present in grey salt, it used to be more prized in days when "refined" was always more valuable than "unrefined" foods (white bread being for the rich, "black" -wholemeal- bread being for the poor, etc.). It was the "white" salt, i.e. the salt for the affluent.

Grey salt doesn't particularly have a taste but it has all the minerals and microalgae it gathers in the wonderful ecosystem of the salt-marshes. I like fleur de sel for sprinkling food before serving or at table, but there again I tend to prefer grey salt because it doesn't melt so fast and keeps its crunch longer. I see that some chefs also opt for grey salt on their tables but that may be a matter of economy.

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Here's a really lovely and informative web site:

http://www.seldeguerande.com/anglais/accueil.htm

It's a nice site and one desgned to sell salt even where taste is not involved.

Serving oysters on a bed of salt makes them look very attractive.

It also offers some good advice.

Remember : Fleur de Sel should not be cooked. Whether on fish or on vegetables, for instance, sprinkle after cooking.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Perhaps you have not been using the actual Guérande Fleur de sel.  There is a variety from the Camargue that is harvested by machine, and not subject to the strict hand-processing methods used in Brittany.  I have always gotten a subtle sensation of violets when using this salt.  This would be totally lost in cooking, so I disagree with you on that matter as well.

The subtle sensation of violets can only be felt when the salt is newly collected. As the salt dries, it disappears. Fleur de sel is almost never commercialized while the violet smell is still in it. And this particularity is only for fleur de sel from the Atlantic coast. There is absolutely no violet smell in fleur de sel de Camargue, which is also a commercial gimmick but at least the Guérande fleur de sel could claim some authenticity in the days when you could get it directly from the producer. Fleur de sel de Camargue was developed when some people realized how much money they could make from it after seeing how well Guérande did. At any rate, whatever is left from the violet smell is reduced to nothing when fleur de sel is used on food.

The salt smells faintly of violets. Lest you think this is a sales gimmick, a cunning way to get daft "foodies" to pay $20 a pound for salt instead of less than 50 cents, which ordinary table salt costs,

The "foodie" argument is not very pertinent when you figure how much some foodies will pay for overhyped gimmicks. Indeed fleur de sel, when it is sold quite dry and far away from the marsh, IS a sales gimmick, certainly not worth its price. However I will certainly not blame the paludiers from Guérande and Batz-sur-Mer for setting this up, for this gimmick very probably saved the marshes from destruction and development. About twenty years ago, the salt marshes were threatened because the grey salt was not profitable enough. If the paludiers have managed to save their jobs, their craft and their produce through overcharging for dried-up fleur de sel, so much the better for everybody. If they hadn't done that, maybe their wonderful grey salt would have disappeared and that would have been a dramatic loss.

Your insights are highly invaluable. I as one serious cook welcome your expertise. Thank you for your input. We know that the Camarque cannot produce the excellent product of the Guerande and the Batz-sur Mer salt products.

A salt product that smells and tastes of violets is eminently desirable. We are fascinated with this thread as it pricks our interest in great French salt products. Thank you for your help. Judith Gebhart

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