Hog Island Oyster Co. bets on a new product: sea salt

Hog Island Oyster Co. bets on a new product: sea salt

In a steamy little workshop overlooking Tomales Bay, Jeff Warrin stands over a big, shallow tub constructed atop a wood-fired brick oven. He gently simmers a shower of amber-colored seawater at exactly 29% salinity.

Slowly the floor begins to crust over like a frozen winter lake. “It is a stupendous, magical course of,” says artist and experimental filmmaker-turned-saltmaker Warrin, describing the ultimate stage of sea salt crystallization.

It might additionally discuss with the fruits of a year-long experiment to reap it off the coast of Marin County and create Hog Island Saltworks. Hog Island’s new enterprise Oyster Co. makes use of an obscure 18th-century methodology of evaporating seawater to provide a contemporary, hyperlocal model of essentially the most primary meals. And the low-impact salt harvesting course of will quickly be integral, the founders observe, to making a round, extra sustainable aquaculture operation for the well-known Bay Space oyster farm.

High: Hog Island Oyster Co. partnered with a Marin County artist named Jeff Warrin to construct a salt pan, harvesting sea salt by evaporation and huge sails of salt. Jeff Warrin makes changes to the salt harvesting gear he has constructed. Above: Jeff Warrin crouches in entrance of a wood-fired vat at Hog Island Saltworks, which is used within the ultimate stage of salt harvesting.

Brian L. Frank / Particular for The Chronicle

The corporate’s inaugural crop – a lightweight, crisp ending salt – will probably be used and offered at its oyster bar at Tomales and Hog Island eating places in Marin, San Francisco and Napa, and accessible for buy on-line, simply at time so as to add a contact of native zest to festive tables.

Flaky, delicate and deep-tasting, the completed product is a far cry out of your strange pantry. From the place it comes from and the way it’s harvested, to the arms that make it, all the pieces about this mineral-rich sea salt appears rooted in its marine setting, together with, finally, the artisan value: from $10 to $15 for a 4 oz jar. On the salt pans of Hog Island website the corporate describes its taste as having a novel “merroir” – a particular sense of belonging to those waters.

“It is like our oysters,” says Warrin, who runs Hog Island Saltworks. “Plenty of the flavour of this salt has to do with the Tomales berry,” he provides. Its crystal clear waters are naturally filtered by 160 acres of bivalves that take away nitrogen and different runoff from close by farms.

At present, solely a handful of sea salt collectors dot America’s shores. Right here within the Bay Space, the place the individuals of Ohlone first evaporated salt in tidal swimming pools, and later Gold Rush-era entrepreneurs constructed seawalls to harvesting salt, frequent vacationers could also be aware of a hen’s eye view of one of many nation’s largest. industrial salt operations, owned by agricultural big Cargill. This large kaleidoscope of salt ponds hued with pink and inexperienced algae in San Francisco Bay – a lot of which is slowly restored in wetlands — depends on the solar to evaporate seawater over a number of years. Most small producers, together with Oregon’s Jacobsen Salt Co. and Humboldt’s Pacific Flake, velocity up the method on land by lighting big kettles.

Hog Island Saltworks couldn't rely solely on the sun for evaporation in foggy Marin County.  So the team settled on the Graduation Tower, which harnesses the wind to extract moisture from seawater as it drips onto repurposed clam nets.

Hog Island Saltworks could not rely solely on the solar for evaporation in foggy Marin County. So the group settled on the Commencement Tower, which harnesses the wind to extract moisture from seawater because it drips onto repurposed clam nets.

Brian L. Frank / Particular for The Chronicle

Impressed by the scenic sun-dried harvest ponds in France, Hog Island co-founder John Finger had lengthy entertained the concept of ​​sea salt manufacturing as a method to broaden his firm’s sustainable farming practices. (Hog Island, established in 1983, is a registered California Profit Company and has participated in analysis on carbon sequestration and ocean acidification). “The wheels began turning,” Finger stated, years in the past, after the corporate acquired a nearby ranch situated simply up the hill. Whereas a lot of the 250-acre plot will stay pasture, a few fifth of it is going to be used for oyster farming and packing, the place the harvested bivalves will spend their ultimate days in shore tanks.

On the present Hog Island operation, which is perched on the water’s edge close to its oyster and clam beds, seawater used for bivalve processing is just returned to the bay. Nonetheless, an inland location complicates discharge, as environmental rules prohibit the discharge of salt water into the bottom.

“I began questioning if we might make salt out of it as an alternative,” Finger stated. “After which I heard there was this loopy man taking part in with salt in Bolinas.”

Warrin, an experimental filmmaker and photographer whose work has been proven at SFMOMA and the Whitney Museum in New York, started his new venture as a pandemic pastime. “Folks had been making bread, cheese and fermented issues,” he stated. “However nobody was making salt.”

The Hog Island Oyster Company partnered with a Marin County artist named Jeff Warrin to build a salt pan, harvesting sea salt through evaporation and large salt sails.  Seawater evaporates from the salt sails with the help of wind and sun, part of the sustainable process of harvesting sea salt from seawater being developed at the Hog Company Island Oyster.
The Hog Island Oyster Firm partnered with a Marin County artist named Jeff Warrin to construct a salt pan, harvesting sea salt by evaporation and huge salt sails. Seawater evaporates from the salt sails with the assistance of wind and solar, a part of the sustainable means of harvesting sea salt from seawater being developed on the Hog Firm Island Oyster.
Brian L. Frank / Particular for The Chronicle

The Hog Island Oyster Company partnered with a Marin County artist named Jeff Warrin to build a salt pan, harvesting sea salt through evaporation and large salt sails.  Sea salt harvested at Hog Island Oyster Company.
The Hog Island Oyster Firm partnered with a Marin County artist named Jeff Warrin to construct a salt pan, harvesting sea salt by evaporation and huge salt sails. Sea salt harvested at Hog Island Oyster Firm.
Brian L. Frank / Particular for The Chronicle

As soon as the salt has shaped on the heated floor, salt employee Jeff Warren gently scrapes it off and spreads it on a drying tray. Images by Brian L. Frank / Particular to the Chronicle

Dwelling alongside the misty coast of Marin, Warrin was all too aware of unreliable sunshine and shortly dismissed the concept of ​​making salt by photo voltaic evaporation. He additionally did not wish to boil water all day, he stated, involved concerning the environmental impacts of constantly burning gasoline to warmth kettles. He settled on the commencement tower, a conventional machine from Northern Europe. The harvesting methodology harnesses the wind to extract moisture from seawater because it flows over a multi-story pile of blackthorn branches.

A 12-foot-tall wood-framed tower, Warrin’s minimalist interpretation is each sculptural and kinetic. As a substitute of branches, a set of 9 repurposed clam nets, every an enormous black sail, glistens with brine and flutters within the bay breeze. A solar-powered pump recycles the waterfall, whereas the wind – with any daylight accessible – works to progressively focus the saline answer over the course of greater than per week.

By the point Warrin transfers the saturated answer to the simmering bathtub, it’s greater than eight instances saltier than seawater: a brine in suspension nearly able to precipitate. Because the crust types on the warmed floor, he gently rakes it away, spreading it on a drying tray like a miniature Zen rock backyard. But, moderately than coarse, gritty crystals, the feel of the salt has extra of a shaved ice high quality – crisp slivers that maintain a slight clump and shatter on the tongue with a wealthy, shiny taste.

Typically talking, the salt that fills most shakers is very processed to ship a singular taste – the distinct chunk of pure sodium chloride. However seawater comprises almost 50 hint components, a lot of that are nonetheless current in sea salt. Warrin estimates that his salt comprises about 75% sodium; the remainder features a host of important components reminiscent of magnesium and potassium.

Hog Island Saltworks describes its salt as having a unique “merroir” – a flavor and sense of place specific to these waters.

Hog Island Saltworks describes its salt as having a novel “merroir” – a taste and sense of place particular to those waters.

Brian L. Frank / Particular for The Chronicle

Tomales Bay’s nutrient-rich water “enhances the flavour of the salt,” says Finger. Rippling with a brackish, barely bittersweet taste, “there is a complexity, nearly like umami in our oysters.”

These ties to the primary tradition of Hog Island are, the truth is, about to get nearer. Along with increasing its oyster processing operations upstream, proper subsequent to the commencement tower, the corporate lately obtained a long-awaited state certificates license to grow seaweed. With the indoor manufacturing yard quickly flooded with seawater, capturing the salt successfully transforms the multi-pronged enterprise into a totally round, zero-waste system.

With 1,500 gallons of seawater producing about 300 kilos of salt, Warren and Finger acknowledge that, at the very least for now, manufacturing will stay a small-batch area of interest product. And at $10-$15 per 4-ounce jar, ending salt inherently lends itself to smart dustings.

“It isn’t a mega venture by any stretch of the creativeness, however it’s so synergistic with what we’re doing right here,” Finger stated. “And what we do is actually about place.”

Hog Island Saltworks Mineral Wealthy Sea Salt
4 ounce jars, $10 to $15.
Out there on-line, in any respect Hog Island eating places and within the Farmhouse retail window

Naoki Nitta is a meals and sustainability author primarily based in San Francisco. Electronic mail: [email protected]

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