Just Add (Salt) Water
The Atlantic Ocean has historically supported generations of East End families through fishing, boating, and tourism. Now an Amagansett couple, Natalie and Steven Judelson, have found a new way to garner the gifts of the sea. They have been harvesting, bottling, and selling Amagansett Sea Salt at local farmers’ markets since the beginning of the summer.
The Judelsons have had a longtime interest in the culture of salt, starting in the salt flats of Brazil and on the island of St. Barth’s. “We loved collecting sea salts from around the world,” Ms. Judelson said.
One day the thought came to them. “I wonder if we can do it ourselves?” said Mr. Judelson. The answer was yes.
“I just drive down to the beach in my Jeep,” Mr. Judelson said. After donning his waders, he heads out into the sea — “in idyllic conditions, it’s high tide on a calm day” — and starts pulling out five-gallon buckets of water. After removing sand and silt from the 100 gallons he brings in and testing for bacteria, the water goes into solar evaporators. What is left at the end can be anywhere from 5 to 15 pounds of coarse sea salt.
The salt is not treated in any way, except to have herbs or spices added by Ms. Judelson. There are several staple blends, along with a weekly or monthly special, according to whimsy and what’s available. She’s also the one who sells the product at the farmer’s markets.
“We questioned whether we would be able to make a commercially sellable product,” Mr. Judelson said. “And then, if we make it, would anyone buy it?”
The salt, corked in small, square glass bottles, has indeed been selling, as gifts, for personal use, and even for use in restaurants such as Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton and South Edison in Montauk. “We ordered 2,000 labels,” Ms. Judelson said. “And we just had to order more. When we ordered them we were thinking, ‘Oh, we’ll probably have to throw these away.’ ”
The salt is a “finishing salt,” which bears little resemblance to what comes out of red canisters. It is large and very flavorful, and a little goes a long way.
The first blend, Amagansett Sea Salt, is unflavored. “We had a little fun with the names,” Mr. Judelson said. Montauk blend features a citrus tang from fresh lemon zest, “because when we think Montauk, we think seafood,” he said. East Hampton blend is “classy,” with herbs from Provence. Limited runs include Lazy Point, with lime and mint for evening cocktails, and Orient Point, with Sichuan peppercorn, ginger, and garlic.
“It’s very labor-intensive,” said Mr. Judelson with a grin. The couple converted the first 50 gallons of sea water to sea salt on New Year’s Day, after eight months of researching “what is in our water.”
“Salt needs a lot of hand-holding,” Mr. Judelson said. The couple don’t use anti-caking agents, so the salt is moist.
The most common question they get is, “Where do you get your salt?”
“Most people blend salt, they don’t make the salt,” Mr. Judelson said. “We get the water, we evaporate it, and get the salt.”
Salt’s historical and cultural background goes back to pre-Biblical times. “To me, salt is one of the basics of life,” Ms. Judelson said. “I love the history and traditions.”
The couple are also aware on a gut level of the burgeoning locavore movement — keeping food local, both to support local growers and also to save fossil fuel mileage that comes from trucking and shipping foods hundreds of miles from place to place.
“It’s been so great to be part of the farmers markets out here,” said Ms. Judelson, who has been impressed by “the level of intellectual approach to farming, the number of Cornell graduates — it’s amazing.”
“There is a value in knowing where your food comes from,” Mr. Judelson added. “I like having a connection with the stuff we eat.”
“We’re going to keep doing this, just the two of us, as long as we can,” Mr. Judelson said. The couple also have a residence in Park Slope, Brooklyn, but spend every available moment in Amagansett, which has been a part of their lives for 40 years.
Steven Judelson looked into a smoker filled with salt. “I got peachwood from John Halsey,” he said, referring to the Halsey farm in Mecox. “I wanted to try a smoked salt, but wanted to use local fruitwood. We’ll see how it turns out.”
The Judelsons have a Web site for their product, which includes an online store. The address is www.amagansettseasalt.com.