By January 2013, Jacobsen had gathered investors from across the country—one of Magic Hat Brewing's early investors, Cosentino, and Portland’s own culinary incubators KitchenCru—to build a salt factory. He passed on a World War II–era blimp hangar near Tillamook Bay before settling on an old oyster farm overlooking the mucky shores of Netarts Bay. Inside the tin-lined, teal-roofed factory, everything is supersized. Tanks as large as swimming pools hold fresh Pacific water, and each of the eight evaporating stockpots stands four feet high.
The facility is just the start. Nested by a forest of Douglas firs and juniper trees, Jacobsen plans to transform the two-acre property into a farm-to-table paradise, with a chicken coop, a two-level Cape Cod–style guest quarters, and a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden. Near a slippery shore that doubles as a boat launch, a clearing will become an outdoor dining room strung with lights, set just a few feet from a panoramic view of the bay and the greenery of Cape Lookout State Park beyond. His anti-foodie tendencies aside, Jacobsen hopes to lure top chefs and his biggest supporters to the idyllic compound, promising supper clubs loaded with Northwest clambakes, and plenty of freshly harvested salt.
But on his inaugural day working at the new factory, Jacobsen must first navigate a perilous three-mile trip with his cache of summer seawater. The tanker, untested for such a use, can’t contain the surges from the thrashing, 6,000-gallon, innerwave pool as it barrels down Whiskey Creek Road. With each jerking halt and every lurch forward, gallons of water gush from a release valve on the side. At the entrance to the new facility, Night Moves begins a hazardous backwards descent, crashing through overgrown evergreens and blocking traffic in both directions. The hulking truck’s enormous wheels spin out as it begins sliding precariously backward down a steep path toward the holding tanks. Night Moves finally stops midway, sinking defiantly into the mud. Throwing up his hands in frustration and preparing himself for the interminable wait for an adequately sized tow truck, Jacobsen walks down to the shore, just a few miles from where he got his first taste of salt fever, and focuses on his grand vision rising from a rusted-out shed littered with the sunbleached skeletons of oysters. Fingering one of the tiny salt travel tins he carries around like a lucky charm, Jacobsen gestures toward the bay, the surface still as glass. “It takes some imagination.”
A Field Guide To Artisan Sea Salts
Traditional salt is a catchall term to describe the majority of sea salts, excluding industrialized varieties that have been koshered or iodized. They are produced worldwide, from Morocco to Vietnam, and can be harvested with the help of solar power, greenhouses, wind, or fire, and later ground into one uniform texture.
Fleur de Sel
Fleur de sel, French for “the flower of salt,” is hand-harvested with rakes from the topmost layer of open-air salt ponds, giving way to delicate, moist, fine, and irregular crystals. Guérande, Brittany, is the most famous producer: it’s where the artisan salt renaissance began in the 1980s. But fleur de sel can be found worldwide, notably in Portugal and Spain.
Sel gris, or “gray salt,” comes from the same pans, lakes, and salt springs as fleur de sel, but is raked from the very bottom of the basin. It owes its steely opaque hue to the porcelain clay that comes along for the ride. Sel gris forms in rough, granular crystals that carry the heaviest minerality and retain the most moisture of any sea salt variety.
Unlike fleur de sel and sel gris, flake salt can be created by heating from below as well as by solar evaporation, which explains how Jacobsen is able to make his particular brand under the Pacific Coast’s heavy cloud cover. Flake salts range in shape and size, from the industry standard Maldon, with flat, striated, geometric pyramids, to Japanese Hana with its seemingly snowflake-thin crystals.
Shio (“salt” in Japanese) is produced only in Japan, heated over a cauldron by wood fire, and agitated with paddles, giving way to tiny, almost microscopic salt crystals. Many varieties, like Shinkai salt, are sourced from underwater currents as deep as 2,000 feet below sea level, promising pure, uncontaminated flakes.