The simplest dishes at The Walrus and The Carpenter, Dahlia Bakery and Café Juanita may become slightly more complex when Ben Jacobsen, the Portland-based harvester who supplies the sea salt flakes which grace raw radishes, breads and fingerling potatoes, starts sourcing salt from different bays.
While the sea-to-table salt idea didn't originate with Jacobsen, most prospective harvesters are frustrated by Oregon's rainfall, which dilutes the salinity of coastal waters. But over the course of countless boiling sessions in his home kitchen, Jacobsen overcame the challenges posed by the climate; he started selling Jacobsen Salt Co. salt last year. The salt's now available in dozens of specialty shops, and Jacobsen claims restaurants are tearing through their stashes of Maldon to make room in their pantries for his product.
Jacobsen's salt has been critically praised, but much of the salt's appeal is rooted in its story. As Jacobsen likes to say, "We're the first to harvest salt from the Oregon coast since Lewis and Clark."
Unlike Lewis and Clark, Jacobsen worries about texture, flavor and aftertaste. He boils the water "to pare back the minerality" and filters it before beginning the evaporation process. While his first bags were made in a shared commercial kitchen, he recently acquired a 4500-square foot production facility.
Next up, Jacobsen hints, is expanding his collection range. He now sources water from Netarts Bay, but wants to explore the merroir of other bays. Water, like soil, has different characteristics in different places.
"Salt is so easily overlooked," he says. "It's really good we're trying to pay attention to good ingredients."