SALT HADN’T BEEN HARVESTED HERE SINCE LEWIS AND CLARK
Ben Jacobsen has found his life’s passion and it’s salt. His fascination began about seven years ago. He was living in Denmark at the time and prepared a basic lunch: aru-gula and tuna salad topped with olive oil, vinegar and a high-quality sea salt. It was just so good, he recalls. I’m a very average home cook, so to see how salt could transform simple food was really exciting. He moved back to the U.S. and settled in Oregon. Frequent trips to the beach got him thinking: Great sea salt comes from coastal areas around the globe, so why couldn’t it be made on American shores? Jacobsen decided to try it himself without researching anything online or asking experts for input. To me it was like solving a puzzle. My only inspiration was that I knew it was possible, he says. He lugged buckets of seawater to a shared commercial kitchen (I’d get there Friday at 4pm and have to be out by Monday at 7am), boiled the briny liquid down, and then let it evaporate until crystals formed. It took him 21/2 years to perfect the process.
The next step was to find the best seawater. Jacobsen took samples from 25 spots along the Oregon and Washington coasts, doing taste tests and making trial batches of salt. Chefs use the best ingredients they can, and similarly, I wanted to start with the best water I could, he says. He ultimately chose the pristine Netarts Bay in Oregon. It has high salinity, and it’s filtered naturally by oyster beds, he explains. And with that, Jacobsen Salt Co. was founded in 2011. Salt hadn’t been harvested here since Lewis and Clark, so it was very tricky at first, he admits. The
Hand-Harvested Pure Flake Sea Salt logistics were complicated, and getting permits from different governing bodies, like the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, took time and convincing. He recalls, A lot of people asked, Why would you want to do that?’
Today, Jacobsen Salt employs 32 people. Jacobsen no longer shares a kitchen; he now has his own facilities, so he can focus on the salt-making process and not rush it. The company’s signature item is its flake sea salt. It’s briny and almost sweet, and it’s very delicate.
You can eat it on its own, and it highlights food, Jacobsen says. If you taste it and then try iodized table salt after, I can almost guarantee you’ll think the table salt is bitter and tastes like chemicals. (Table salt is the stuff you find in shakers on diner tables and in paper packets at fast-food restaurants. It’s processed to remove trace elements like magnesium and contains additives like antidumping agents.)
Jacobsen is active in the local food scene, which has been instrumental in his company’s growth. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the support of chefs, home cooks, local journalists and others in our community, he says. And some big players in the culinary world, like April Bloomfield and Thomas Keller, are fans.
I SEE OPPORTUNITY UNDER OUR FEET, LITERALLY.
Jacobsen’s collaborative spirit has led to some unique products, like salts infused with Willamette Valley pinot noir and Stumptown coffee. There’s even a local sauna and spa that uses our magnesium Epsom salts a byproduct of the salt-making process in their foot soaks, he notes. Inspired by that creative reuse, Jacobsen plans to launch an apothecary line this spring that will include a liquid kitchen soap, a bar soap and bath salts all made with leftover magnesium salts. Another byproduct is calcium, which he’ll be processing and selling as fertilizer. His third and final byproduct is steam. We don’t do anything with that right now, but we sure would love to at some point, he says excitedly.
It’s this innate curiosity and ambition that’s at the heart of Jacobsen’s company. A lot of local resources are overlooked or taken for granted, he says. Chamomile, for example, grows wild in the Pacific Northwest; Jacobsen sees it all the time in parking lots and popping through the cracks of sidewalks. I see opportunity under our feet, literally, he says. It’s fun to make something out of nothing.
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