Anyone who’s taken a plunge into the chilly ocean waters of the North Shore has already had a small taste of the region’s sea salt, but until recently, those flavors were fleeting, reserved for summertime swims, or maybe a scoop of ocean water for a lobster boil.
Enter the year-old company Atlantic Saltworks, which calls itself the first saltworks in eastern Massachusetts in more than 100 years. Its hand-harvested flake finishing salt, which comes from the waters of Gloucester, is already a hit with foodies and chefs in the area. It’s in use at places like Salem’s Scratch Kitchen and The Langham Hotel’s restaurants in Boston, and for sale in retail spots like Pamplemousse in Reading and Salt Traders in Ipswich.
But like the humble rock itself, Atlantic Saltworks had modest beginnings. It started in Heather Ahearn’s Salem kitchen in August 2013. Ahearn and her friend, Alison Darnell, were making dinner with ingredients bought at the farmers’ market. Everything on their table was locally sourced…except for the salt. So they took matters into their own hands. They got a bucket, walked across the street to Salem Harbor, scooped up some water, and boiled it on the stove.
“We just boiled and boiled until there was no water left in the pan,” Ahearn says. And, lo and behold, salt appeared. They were enthralled. Excited. Obsessed. And Atlantic Saltworks was born.
Wearing Wellington boots and using five-gallon buckets, Ahearn and Darnell scooped ocean water from Gloucester’s shores and used the shared commercial kitchen space at Kitchen Local in Amesbury to perfect their salt-making technique and launch their business.
Just over a year after making their first batch of local salt, Atlantic Saltworks has graduated from the boots, buckets, and shared kitchen. They now use a pump and 55-gallon drum to collect seawater, and just signed a lease for their own kitchen space at the Blackburn Center in Gloucester. The company has also expanded its product line to include not only flake finishing salt but also cocktail salt, grinders, and herb-salt blends. Plus, Ahearn and Darnell have found a passion that they didn’t know they had.
“I get up and I think about salt. I go to bed and I think about salt,” Ahearn says. “What did I think about before last August?” atlanticsaltworks.com
For more salty culinary exploring, check out Salt Traders in Ipswich, which has a small retail shop as well as a booming online business. The company, which was founded in 2004, specializes in salts and peppers from around the world, as well as its own signature salt blends, sugar blends, and spice blends, says owner Didi Davis. Among its most exciting products is the Danish Viking Smoked Sea Salt, an intensely smoky, black-hued salt that’s smoked over an open fire in the style of the ancient Norse seafarers. Davis says it’s especially suited to meat and potatoes but also works with bean dishes, soups, stews, Portobello mushrooms, eggs, and fresh cheese. Salt Traders is also always working to expand its salt blends, with new flavors like Sriracha lime salt and espresso salt, as well as its artisan salt line, which Atlantic Saltworks is part of. “We really love having a salt that people make themselves, by hand,” Davis says. salttraders.com