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The sea salt artisans of Aveiro

This way to the salt beds of Marinha Noeirinha

Most cooks and food lovers know about fleur de sel, that famous and treasured sea salt from France.  But few have heard of  flor de sal,  the artisan sea salt from Portugal.  When in Aveiro, you can see first hand how it is harvested from the sea, bring home an edible souvenir for your kitchen, and do your part to help preserve a traditional Portuguese craft.

Sea salt has been harvested in Portugal since the 9th century.  At that time, the salt of Aveiro was valued as a high-quality product, and the industry thrived for several hundred years.  But the fortunes of the salineiro have changed over time, with industrial salt production, weather changes and other economic factors affecting both supply and demand.  As recently as 1975 there were more than 300 sol salinas in Aveiro.  Today, fewer than 10 remain.

Aveiro’s sea salt is made in an environmentally friendly process by creating clay-lined beds in the salt marsh and trapping the seawater that flows with the tides.  Over a period of months, adjustments are made to water flows and the beds are monitored by the marnatos, until most of the water has evaporated.  In late summer, the salt is harvested by hand, using traditional wooden rakes and baskets.  Flor de sal is the top, frothy layer of salty foam that floats to the surface during the drying process, and it’s the most prized and delicate form of sea salt.  The flor de sal from Aveiro is especially pure, and powder-white.  It has been harvested here for more than a thousand years, and if these marnatos have their way, it will continue for another thousand.

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