France: Well Seasoned

Gruissan;  St. Martin saltern (salt pans)

Gruissan; St. Martin saltern (salt pans)

Changes in behavior over the years:  Restaurants, airplanes, theaters and most other public places are non-smoking;  most people pick up after their dogs;  one can buy an American chain brand hamburger or coffee pretty much anywhere in the world; and, cooks have become obsessed with different kinds of salt.

I appreciate all of those changes except, perhaps, for the hamburger and coffee proliferation; and, even I have taken advantage of those far flung franchises once in a great while.  But this brief blog entry concerns itself with the last change listed;  that of fancy schmancy salt.

I admit it; I have lots of varieties of salt.  Salts do have different characters, flavors, and textures and they are fun to play with in the kitchen and on the table.  So, when I read about the St. Martin salt flats near Narbonne, France, which is ever so close to Cruzy, I decided that a visit was required.

I’m certain that some of their salt is of the delicate, flaky fleur de sel variety but what we saw was more large scale production.  Think hard hatted fellows operating giant earth moving equipment rather than quaintly dressed peasants wielding rakes.  Nonetheless, it was very interesting.  The sea water is let into shallow ponds where it is allowed to evaporate to a certain percentage of salinity.  Then it is diverted into another pond to repeat the cycle.  This happens many times over the course of many days until the water is gone and the salt is left.

The ponds are of differing colors of pinkishness . . . maybe algae accounts for the color?  I read about it but have already forgotten what I read.  I am such an informed traveler!  Of course, there was a lovely gift shop where we were able to purchase salts seasoned with a variety of herby things.  And any excursion that ends with a trip to a gift shop is a success.

After visiting a location focused on things of the body, we decided to balance our day with a visit to a place dedicated to the soul.  So, after salt it was off to the Abbaye du Fontfroide.  Not quite able to make the shift from body to soul, we began our visit with a very nice lunch at the abbey restaurant.  Don’t know what kind of salt they used in the kitchen but the food was excellent.

The abbey is beautiful in that it has been completely restored but I felt that the restoration stripped the soul right out of the place.  It was more like a movie set than a religious edifice.  So much for my soul!!  The gardens did have gorgeous pomegranite and persimmon trees that were heavy with fruit. And, of course, the abbey did have a lovely gift shop . . .

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