Recently I was given a present of some Fleur de Sel by my nephew who had just returned from a holiday on the Ile de Re. I had visited the area last year and there are a few posts on this site about the Ile de Re but nothing on the salt production, largely because on the day I wanted to photograph the salt pans it was tipping it down, ( click here for other posts on Ile de Re) so the photos on this post ( with the exception of the bag of salt) have been kindly donated by the same nephew, David Howell – many thanks to him.
There are now over 60 salt producers (sauniers) on the island and they produce between 2,000 and 3,000 tonnes a year between them. The salt I received as a gift was produced by Rive Saline and is Fleur de sel which is the very finest salt. When the salt has crystallised out in the pans the salt at the very top, on the surface, is carefully removed by hand to produce Fleur de sel. It is pure and white. Lower down you get the grey coloured salt known as Sel Gris and this has some of the deposits from the salt pan, clay and other minerals, mixed in with it. It contains trace elements such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and iodine. The Sel gris is mainly used for the cooking of foods (green beans, potatoes, fish and roast) These minerals are good for you and so the Sel gris is also rated quite highly. Personally I cannot tell the difference between salt from Tesco’s and Fleur de sel – it seems to me it is all in the packaging and the thought that it might do you some good?Rive saline has a website at http://boutique.rivesaline.com/ so you can see all their products. Most of the other producers also have websites and some of them will take you on tours around their salt pans.
The first photo was taken near Loix and the others in the slide show at the end were all taken near Ars.
Salt production began in earnest in the 13th century and was carried out by Cistercian monks. It reached its peak in the 19th century with an annual production of 32.000 tonnes. It then died out due to salt minning and was only reinstated in the 1990s.
The salt pans will attract some bird life such as egrets and wading birds as when the sea is first let into the pan it will contain a certain amount of small living creatures such as shrimps and other invertebrates. As the water evaporates and the concentration increases these creatures will become easy targets for the birds.
Also living in this salty environment is a plant known as samphire or glasswort or to give it its proper name Salicornia. This is delicious and you can collect enough for a good meal from a salt marsh in just a few minutes. Do not collect late in the year as it can be a bit tough. June is the best month. Many of the salt producers on Ile de Re also sell pickled Salicornia although this is not to my taste. I prefer it fresh. To cook it you boil water, immerse the Salicornia in the water and bring it back to the boil,then tip the water away and fill the with fresh water and once this comes back to the boil the Salicornia is cooked. Drain off the water, add butter or olive oil and enjoy. The reason for the double boiling process is that it removes a lot of the salt which this plant contains.
OK that’s your lot on salt from Ile de Re – please now enjoy my nephew’s wonderful photos.