Salt-Tasting Soiree

posted in: Cooking, Experience, Savory, Seattle-ing, Sweet | 216

salt line

For several years I have had the desire to host a salt-tasting party, I simply lacked the impetus. Until now.  You see, I’ve always felt the salty soiree should have serendipitous timing all around, and that wasn’t possible in days gone by.  For me, everything had to be essential, perfect, balanced.  The food, the guests, the salts, the level of engagement- the whole shebang.  When I finally decided a few months ago that the signs were looking auspicious to host the party, it was a right nice feeling. Right nice indeed, because I’ve been stewing over the concept for so long, there really wasn’t much to settle on.  Except for incorporating some new obsessions in terms of food (can you say sous vide?) and making sure the guest list didn’t go entirely jabberwocky with too many tasters and not enough salt, all the pre-planning was a cinch.

simple food

I planned a from-scratch menu deliberately devoid of salt to encourage tasting and pairing. Notables included sous vide custard duck eggs, sliced heirloom tomatoes, no-knead baguettes by Patrick aka best breadbaker in the world, homemade cottage cheese, homemade burrata, a slew of Italian cheeses including a three-milk Robiola and Bra Tenero, jicama, fava beans and honey, sous vide potatoes and beets, and edamame.  Whew, if that wasn’t a salt-less mouthful I don’t know what would be.  I did not forget the dessert category, which consisted of maple caramels, chocolate pavé and triple chocolate truffle tart by Patrick, and four types of ice cream: rhubarb crème fraiche, coffee hazelnut, quadruple chocolate and goat yoghurt maple.

crowd

Since many members of the Seattle fooderati scene showed for the 70+ person party, there were countless other notable culinary creations from the likes of Michael Natkin, the man behind Herbivoracious, Jenny Richards of Purplehousedirt, Lorna Yee from The Cookbook Chronicles,  Marc Schermerhorn of the infamous @marcseattle twitter feed, Keren Brown aka Frantic Foodie, and many more.  The lovely and talented Jeanne Sauvage of Fourchickens, brought me a carton of homegrown eggs that I’ve been coddling as though they were babies; I want chickens and ducks so badly I can taste them, but that’s a story for another time.

saline

For the tasting itself, I lined my dining table with over 60 empty vessels and assigned each one a corresponding number.  We created a master list on the Ipad that contained each number, then, when attendees brought salt, they simply chose a vessel, told us the number, and we catalogued each salt into the secret master list.  This way the tasting was truly blind.  I raided my own global collection of salt and filled roughly twenty of the vessels, and once all the guests had proffered their hand-selected salts, we had 63 samples.  I established four categories for the tasting: Best Overall Tasting Salt, Best Blended Salt, Best Pairing-Savory, and Best Pairing-Sweet.  My graphic designer neighbor Cyndy created ballots so folks could cast their votes, and I’ve just tallied the results, which are molto interessante indeed.

Repurposed Aarnio Bubble Chair as Wine Chiller
Repurposed Aarnio Bubble Chair as Wine Chiller

Before I get to that I want to mention some of the notable salts on display that evening, representing six continents.  Janna Wemmer from Secret Stash Salts brought a dizzying array of her expertly-blended salts, including bloody mary salt, smoked chipotle, and lavender rosemary to name a few.  She is a locally-focused artisan producer of the finest blended salt available in the Pacific Northwest, and her salts should be included in any representational goodie bag of local products.  Local foodie-about-town Traca Savadogo was able to get Mark and Marjorie Fuller of famed restaurant Spring Hill to donate some of Mark’s ancestral Hawaiian red clay sea salt, aged 25 years,  which was one I made sure to sneak a reserve of for later use.  Apparently the aging process sweetens the deal, and I mean that in a literal sense.  The kind folks over at Marx Foods heard about the tasting and donated some perfectly structured Portugese Flor de Sal for our tasting pleasure. I’ve been finishing with this one for a few weeks and am very happy with the crystal structure and depth of character.

crowd

Every party is bound to have one jester, and this soiree was not immune.  Our non-food-obsessed neighbor thought it would be quite funny to cart in a salt-lick, which he did with much pride to much snickering.  We had to give it a fair tasting, so we chipped some off the old block and put it in a vessel, much to the chagrin of the poor folks who tasted it.  Oddly, it did receive one vote; some kind soul nominated it in the savory pairing category for its complementary taste with radishes.  Many of the salts travelled here from around the globe, but only a few did so expressly to be tasted at the party.  One such salt was a Waddenzout brought all the way from Amsterdam by Robert and Patrick. I sure hope that one didn’t have any extra Amsterdam-additives in it, if you know what I mean.  Another well-travelled salt came from my amazing friend Emily (Happy Birthday, Baby) who sent over some Korean Bamboo salt from Ulsan, where she is teaching for the year.  Lily and Rodney brought forth a slew of salts from Vancouver BC made by Edible Canada.  Of the twenty or so salts I personally contributed, besides my homemade salt, many of them came from the Portland-based salt boutique The Meadow.  If you think of the most esoteric salt in all the lands and are scratching your head as to where to find it, chances are you’ll find it at The Meadow, which is my go-to salt destination, both online and in the flesh.

salty line

Alright, enough of me waxing lyrical about one of the greatest substances on earth- let’s see the results.  The winner in the best overall finishing salt category is the timeless classic, Maldon Sea Salt. It’s crystal structure alone is a thing of marvel; I really believe this salt should be one of the wonders of the world because it comes in the form of little dissolving pyramids. I love other salts equally for different things, but I am not surprised that Maldon unanimously won the grand prize.  There were four salts tied for second place in this category: Trapani Sea Salt, my own sea salt, Secret Stash Salt’s Lavendar Rosemary, and Pangasinan Star.

(un)salted caramels

The winner of best blended salt goes to Black Truffle Sea Salt.  A very close second goes to Secret Stash Salt’s Lavender Rosemary Salt.  Tied for third place here are Evergreen Edible Salt and Wreck Beach Edible Salt.  Best Pairing-Sweet has three salts tied for first place. They are: Murray River Pink Salt, Maldon Sea Salt, and Tahitian Vanilla Salt, all being paired with caramels. In fact, caramels were the favored vehicle with which to sweetly taste salt.  The trickiest category was Best Pairing-Savory.  I think it’s because there was so much food it was difficult to get consistency.  Five salts tied for first place in this category. They are: The Drive Edible on heirloom tomatoes, Tahitian Vanilla on Eggs (maybe these voters had a few glasses of wine?), Sale alle Erbe delle Mar Lunghe (salt with herbs from the long sea) on Patrick’s bread, Haleakala Ruby on heirloom tomatoes, and Murray River on mozzarella and edamame.

these glasses did not stay empty for long
these glasses did not stay empty for long

Alright, this was a bloody long-winded post, so I’m going to wrap it up.  It is my goal to showcase the winners in all categories and do some refined tasting with them in a more controlled environment. I’d like to perfect some pairings and suss out which qualities about each of the winning salts made it memorable for tasters.  Expect to see more salt in this space soon, but then, you probably already knew that.  Have a salt-sational day!

all the salts- the morning after
all the salts- the morning after

PS- special thanks to Lisa Page Ramey for providing some of the mid-party action shots; there was a lot going on and our camera languished in the corner for much of the evening.

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216 Responses

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  19. wow!
    That is a huge amount of cakes out there!

  20. This fits in perfectly with an idea I had about having a salt tasting. Wow. This is ideal, and I really love the recommendations of the foods that were used. I will definitely be, um, *borrowing* the ideas that you used in your tasting. Thanks so much!

  21. [...] bit goes a long way, and different salts complement different foods. Don’t believe me? Host a salt-tasting soiree and see for [...]

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  23. [...] bit goes a long way, and different salts complement different foods. Don't believe me? Host a salt-tasting soiree and see for [...]

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  26. Maldon is my favorite as well! Sounds like my kind of party.

  27. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michael Natkin, Miss Mushroom. Miss Mushroom said: This was INCREADABLE! RT> Here is the wrapup from @SaltySeattle 's incredible salt tasting party http://bit.ly/9hgduF (via @michaelnatkin) [...]

  28. Hey Linda – somehow I missed this post in my reader. This was the most fun party I’ve been to in ages… The sight of all the salts lined up was just incredible. I only wish I could have stayed longer. And you should be very proud that your homemade salt came in a tie for 2nd after Maldon, which just about everyone regards as arguably the finest all-around salt in the world.

  29. That was such a fun night! You rock!

  30. Linda, awesome party – we had such a terrific time, and I’m so glad I can share your post with my friends and family who aren’t ‘in the know!’

    We were the crazy people who brought the salt with herbs and I was shocked to see it mentioned – we’ve been picking at it with stuff the whole week. I preferred others to that one, but I’m happy *someone* liked it!

    Bravo, you did a terrific job hosting – I hope you hired a cleaning service for the next day so you could recuperate.

  31. What an excellent party idea! I also love the fact that you omitted salt in all the food you served to encourage everyone to make their own match. I know Maldon Sea Salt is a classic but I never had the chance to try it. I just found an online reseller in Canada, checking out as we speak!

  32. Love this party idea! Looks like a wonderful time!

  33. [...] get sick, but this chunk of my calendar was especially full. I was forced to miss a friend’s fabulous salt tasting party and had to skip being a judge at a contest called Iron Vintners, where winemakers were teamed with [...]

  34. [...] get sick, but this chunk of my calendar was especially full. I was forced to miss a friend’s fabulous salt tasting party and had to skip being a judge at a contest called Iron Vintners, where winemakers were teamed with [...]

  35. @Rachel J
    public service- I like the way you think!

  36. I am impressed with your tasting party, but not shocked. Your level of fabulosity has always been top notch. Everything looks beautiful and balanced and I hope your guests saw the great gift you gave via the salts. I can’t count how many times I’m staring at salts just wondering how they all taste. Kudos for your culinary education public service. ^_^

  37. What a terrific idea! Excellent post – I realy enjoyed reading it. Looks like everyone had a wonderful time.

  38. I love it! Your signature post. Looks like an amazing party! My mouth is watering, literally.

  39. What a great idea for a tasting! I may have to steal the idea :-)

    Linda is spot on btw, Murray River Pink is the bomb, especially on a watermelon, tomato and fennel salad. Yum.

  40. Salt, the new candy!
    Seemed like a wonderful time with so many ingenious flavors! Can’t wait for the followup posts.

  41. Wow! What an amazing party! I’ve never done a salt tasting, but I love this idea and how you wanted people to pair the salts with various salt-less foods. It looks like your brainchild had a very fruitful existence!

  42. Awesome party! So happy I was able to participate. Congrats to all the winners!

  43. Sorry I missed it! Looks like a wonderfully salty affair!

  44. Linda, great idea for a party and an overall spectacular night! Thank you for hosting and for the invitation. You and Jonas have a beautiful home.

    I’m already looking forward to your follow-up posts and the next get together!

    - Janna

  45. what an awesome party, and so fitting to this blog :) i’m still constantly amazed at the different salts out there…i was so sheltered for the longest time, sure that iodized salt (vomit) was the one and only…

    …boy was i wrong, thank God!

  46. @penny aka jeroxie
    Doesn’t hurt that one of the best salts of the earth, Murray River Pink, comes from your home turf!

  47. What an amazing time that must have been- I am looking forward to the followup posts.

  48. Such a fun concept for a party–love it! Looks like you all had a fantastic time~

  49. What a great event. Having been to one myself, I can understand the versatility of salt and how different types of salt makes a difference to a dish

  50. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lisa Page Ramey, Linda M Nicholson. Linda M Nicholson said: Salt-Tasting Soiree http://bit.ly/dyTjRO RESULTS! [...]

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