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blog swirl & savor

Via del Sale, Ancient Traditions Thriving in a Modern World

Beth Ribblett

It was a stunningly beautiful morning on the west coast of Sicily as we journeyed out to the "Via del Sale" or salt road that runs between Trapani and Marsala. With the Egadi Islands to the left and the breathtaking, looming Monte Erice to the right, the shimmering salt flats dotted with the old windmills come into view. The lagoon of Stagnone has been home to the salt works of Trapani since the Phoenicians began the ancient method of hand-harvesting of sea salt as early as 1154 B.C. The shallow waterway, high temperatures and winds that aid in the evaporation make is the perfect home for the checkerboard of shimmering rectangular evaporation pools that hold the sea water during various phases of evaporation.

"Ettore e Infersa" signs along the road guide you to the historic production area started in 1922 by two passionate men of the same name. Committed to the maintaining the ancient methods of salt mining brought by the Phoenicians, their company still harvests the salt by hand and even restored the 500 year old windmill so that it can again be used to grind the salt and power the pumps that move that water from pool to pool during the various stages of evaporation.

During the months of June through, September the salt is gathered once it reaches the last pool and evaporation is complete. It is taken by wheelbarrel to areas between the pools and arranged in small heaps. Throughout the winter these heaps are protected by layers of roof tiles until the spring, when the salt preparation begins. (We were there in October so the harvesting had already taken place and the piles of salt were being readied for the winter months. Some of the photos above are mine and the ones of the harvest are from the web.) The natural harvesting process allows the salt to maintain the trace elements found in sea water like magnesium, iodine and potassium which make it more flavorful, soluble and complete.

There is a museum at the site where you can view a video of the history and the process, go to the top of one of the windmills and buy gifts. We did all of the above and our fellow guide on the trip, Elisabetta, told us that the salt made by this company was available in the states. When I got home I went to our local Italian market, NorJoes, and found the Antica Salina by Sosalt, the place we visited!

So if you are a foodie and a purist, you need to try this salt! It comes in a fino/fine grade that is a little finer than Kosher salt and a grosso/course. If you can't find it, I've added it to the Swirl and Savor store, click here for Antica Salina. Also for more information and photos go to the Sosalt website at www.sosalt.it.