food

The Blossoming Business of Fleur de Sel

Lying halfway between the towns of Velddrif and Dwarskersbos, the Velddrif Salt Company has produced most of the salt we find on tables today.

Georgia East

Often an overlooked seasoning, sea salt is the veritable crocodile of the kitchen – ancient in origin but still found worldwide today. Abundant along the shores of the Cape West Coast, the harvest of a very special kind of salt takes place in the hot dry summer months.

Lying halfway between the towns of Velddrif and Dwarskersbos, the Velddrif Salt Company has produced most of the salt we find on tables today. Encompassing an extensive series of pans, the salt cultivated here takes pride in being some of the purest in the country, if not the world. Here, the seawater held in shallow pans that range in colour from deep tangerine to pastel pink evaporate under days of unrelenting sunshine – the famed Berg wind adding to the drying effect. Tiny salt flakes, delicate as glass, rise to the surface and are carefully harvested by hand.

Fleur de sel or 'flowers of salt' were first recognised for their beauty and purity in the French town of Guérande, along the coast of Brittany. Also know as the caviar of sea salts, fleur de sel fetches a high price in markets from Greece to Brazil, although the salt itself is distinctly French in origin. Almost never optical white in appearance, fleur de sel is usually pale grey or tinged pink from clay deposits in the soil – a detail that is used to differentiate the unrefined salt flakes from their iodized counterparts.

At the zenith of the day, when heat haze shimmers over the salt pans and the dry wind of the afternoon is beginning to blow is the best time to harvest fleur de sel. Cecil Nero and Themba Nokhla of Khoisan Salt wade carefully through the pan, skimming the top with wide shovel-like tools. The flakes are collected into large baskets and left out in the sun to drain and dry. It’s a mesmerizing process to watch, especially with the knowledge that each step of the process will be done as it has been for centuries.

Having built on to the natural alluvial deposits and effectively kick-started the demand for gourmet salt, Yntze Schrauwen registered Khoisan Salt in the early Nineties and the company’s hand-harvested salt is now sold worldwide. His wife Joan, a celebrated artist – noticed tiny flakes forming on the edge of one of the smaller pans and remembered the summer harvest of fleur de sel seen on the Camargue. She started selling the flakes in her gallery in Velddrif and soon the demand for fleur de sel grew. Having been featured in restaurants from Franschhoek to Paternoster and beyond, Khoisan Salt’s fleur de sel is a gentle pink colour and like all of it’s kind, is best used as a finishing salt or garnish to a meal. Admittedly pricier than regular table salt, the care that goes into the cultivation, harvest and production of fleur de sel sets it apart as an artisanal product and it should be treated accordingly.

Deliciously delicate, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the fleur se sel of the France or our very own.