A YEAR LATER, STILL COOKING

Salty catches up with Nathan Gamauf, co-founder of The Prince Edward Island Sea Salt Co.

When Nathan Gamauf and Darren Blanchard first set out to create a unique PEI sea salt recipe, they knew there would be challenges. In the summer of 2017, the co-founders of the Prince Edward Island Sea Salt Company were ready to tame the north shore’s briny surf into little crystalline filled bottles for Island consumers. Getting the right salinity, creating the right texture, and making an authentic product were all very high on their checklist.

What was a surprise was how caustic the initial batches would be. So many batches and months went by as they perfected not just their recipes but their cleaning and maintenance schedules.

“We use anodized aluminum and have one shut-down day a week to clean our entire system. What really, really corrodes it to the point where it’s no longer usable is if you allow salt to build up on the interior and the exterior. We need to continuously clean the salty buildup to avoid corrosion,” Gamauf said.

Yet another challenge was coping with the mineral byproduct. “Our boil method has the excess calcium and magnesium settle out, that creates a buildup that essentially looks like plaster. What we take out looks like you could repair a plaster wall. But, that’s one of our advantages, too. That’s one of the big reasons we don’t do solar salt, not only because we don’t have the climate, but also because the buildup of minerals, calcium, magnesium are responsible for the bitter ‘bite’ of most sea salts. So, our salt is very mild, but very salty.”

Very salty, which is exactly the quality you want in a hand-harvested sea salt. Gamauf gets many comments on how long the saltiness lingers. “A single grain of salt goes a long way because there’s none of the mineral to dull your palate.”

Their process differs from those of conventional sea salts, whose crystallization methods—like kiln-drying which exposes salt to temperatures in excess of four hundred degrees celsius—often remove all of the humidity from the grain and leave a hard rock behind. That pulls moisture from what you’re cooking with, or even worse, right out of your mouth. “That’s where you get your grinder-consistency sea salt. It’s so dry it craves moisture and pulls it from your palate or your food. We have a moisture content in our salt, purposely, because we finish in a low-temperature convection oven and only dry to a certain point and allow it to have its own moisture, so it’s not a dessicant,” Gamauf said.

Nathan Gaumauf, co-founder of Prince Edward Island Sea Salt Co. Photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

But once they’d finalized their essential salt, the next step was perfecting their flavours. They launched their first three infusions late in 2017, so along with the pure sea salt, you can purchase red wine infused salt with wine from Rossignol Winery in Murray River, coffee infused from Receiver Coffee Co. in Charlottetown, and black garlic from Al Picketts’ Eureka Garlic in Kensington.

“I think we’d be a fairly boring company if we were just doing pure sea salt. I’m very happy with the quality of the salt we’re producing now. It’s fine-grain and we purposely go for the flavour over the flake consistency. Another reason why we do fine-grained is to create the maximum surface area for our infusions. That’s really where things pique people’s interest. Nobody’s heard of black garlic salt. Red wine salt, and coffee salt are a little bit more common, but they’re still strange enough that they’re more interesting than just pure salt.”

With their vision of staying local, Gamauf said they’re always on the hunt for new flavours growing around them. “What I really like about PEI is that it has all of these great ingredients and for the most part it’s unpretentious. You try and strike a balance. We realize that the story is going to sell, but we need to stand on the quality of our product. Although we’ll occasionally write a flowery description, it’s really the product has to live up to it. It’s not the power of suggestion that is going to resell our product it’s the quality.”