One of my favorite pieces of road to drive in New Zealand is between Picton and Kaikoura. Starting in the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound, you soon hit the green vines of Marlborough, framed by parched golden hills, and with larger mountains way in the distance. A slow wind down the rolling hill country leads you towards the ‘big blue’. This piece of coastline is simply stunning on a crystal clear day but it’s just as rewarding with a side of attitude, when a crappy southerly is running up the Island. If there is a decent swell happening, it’s one of nature’s great displays. Huge waves smash the sharp pinnacle outcrops that stretch the length of this magnificent coastline.
I’m a pretty cruisey driver and getting anywhere quickly is never on my agenda. I love taking in the land and getting a feel for whatever province I’m in. The one piece of road where I inevitably hold up a few cars is just south of Sedden, where Lake Grassmere appears on the left, at the bottom of the last hills before you hit the ocean. From the very first time I spotted the ‘mountains’ of white stuff here, surrounded by what looks like a massive jigsaw of bleached pink ponds, the site has always fascinated me. I have hankered to visit for a good while and see salt in its most basic form.
You see, I love salt, and like most people, I use it every day of my life. Without a doubt it’s the single most important ingredient that I cook with, and I simply adore it. It’s an ingredient that is commonly taken for granted, but without it, our eating enjoyment would be a far less rewarding experience. Salt is the volume button on taste. It’s the one product that amplifies flavor and lifts food from ordinary and places it on a culinary pedestal. Flavours become more focused and pure – savoury becomes fuller and richer, while sweet becomes sweeter. Simply put, salt naturally preserves ingredients, eliminates blandness and it just makes food taste better!
This may raise the hackles of the newly formed ‘salt police’. Like the ‘butter bashers’, the ‘fat fanatics’ and the ‘sugar spoilers’, they will inevitably do their darndest to scaremonger as many people about the dangers of things that actually taste good or for that matter, make things taste good. If you have too much of anything there is a good chance that it’s probably not going to be great for you. So, when it comes to the consumption of all things delicious, there is another word that comes into play, and that of course is moderation.
By chance one night I was lucky enough to serve a great bunch of guys at my restaurant, Depot. One of them, Shane Dufaur, happened to be the CEO of Dominion Salt, the company that harvest salt at Lake Grassmere. A dozen or two Tio Points (one of our world class oyster varieties) and a couple of carafes of Marlborough sauvignon later, and the invitation was forthcoming to spend a day at the salt harvest, learning all about it and getting in the way.
The salt produced at Lake Grassmere is as pure and delicious as you will find anywhere in the world. Like drinking wine from this country, pouring our olive oil, eating local lamb or green shell mussels, we should all be proud to use this magnificent naturally harvested New Zealand salt. Maldon what?
Here are a few pics from that day.