Maine Sea Salt Co.
Salt of the Earth…Or Sea
Steve Cook stands inside a long greenhouse, the cylindrical roof above him creating a tunnel-like appearance. Thick black rubber boots come up to his knees, a striking contrast to the white mounds that he shovels into buckets. Snow, in September, in a greenhouse?
The plot thickens as Cook moves among a line of smokers. He holds a tool resembling an awkward pair of tongs, the man himself reminiscent of something between a master griller and a bee keeper. Smoke billows from the metal hubs and fire licks the mesh wire that lies underneath browned kernels. Suspicions move away from snow or ice, leaning toward something less susceptible to heat.
It seems only one way to find out – a quick taste test – and it’s revealed. The verdict? Sea salt.
Founded in 1998 by Cook and his wife Sharon, Maine Sea Salt Co. runs quite the production in the town of Marshfield in Downeast Maine where they apply a combination of science and good cooking sense to sea salt pumped straight out of the North Atlantic. The Cooks’ original product, a one-ounce package of salt created for cooking lobster, was inspired by Cook’s experience growing up and lobstering on Bailey Island, where his family opened Cook's Restaurant and Pound (now known as Cook's Restaurant & Ale House) in the ’50s.
Over the years, the salt works has prospered and Maine Sea Salt Co.’s products are sold throughout the United States. The Cooks’ salt is created by pumping sea water from the North Atlantic into evaporating pools in green houses. The green houses act as solar panels, using the summer sun as the heat source. Salt production is seasonal, utilizing the heat of the summer sun; and like a farmer, Cook understands how important weather is to his end product.
What makes sea salt different from table salt, you might ask? Table salt that you buy at the grocery store has had the minerals stripped from it, but Maine Sea Salt Co. keeps the minerals in, knowing that they add to the flavor profile and enhance the taste of your food. The minerals in sea salt become more prevalent the deeper you dig. Sea salt contains sodium chloride, but also often includes more than 90 trace minerals, such as iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, iodine, and magnesium, that are found in the ocean.
Another thing that sets the Cooks’ sea salt apart from others is the way it’s processed. First, the sea water is pumped at high tide through a filtered hose into a truck at Bucks Harbor. It is then delivered to the Cooks’ farm, straight into a greenhouse and reduced to 50% salinity. This method is repeated and reduced to 70% in another set of greenhouses. Next, it goes to a finishing house, where the water is evaporated, leaving behind the sea salt. It is then piled high, placed in bins to drain any remaining moisture, and finally ground. No caking agents are added. No forced heat is ever used, nor is it washed. Steve’s favorite part of his job is refining the methods used for evaporating sea salt with solar power and developing new salt mixes.
Maine Sea Salt Co. offers both smoked and seasoned salts. The former is created by smoking the salt over wood fires in small batches and is fantastic for making your own rubs; the apple-smoked salt is perfect for salmon, white meats, and vegetables, while the hickory-smoked salt pairs well with red meats. The Cooks recently added two new smoked flavors perfect for Fall, maple and mesquite, made using the same small-batch method as the original smoked salt flavors. The herb, garlic, and dulse seasoning salts are wonderful on everything, while the lemon and pepper Maine Sea Salt is great with chicken, fish, or asparagus. The herbs the Cooks use in their mixes are organic, obtained locally when possible, with the majority purchased from Starwest Botanicals. Dedication to providing only the best-quality sea salt continues to be a driving force for Maine Sea Salt Co. with the development of each product.
If you find yourself in the Downeast Maine area, Maine Sea Salt Co. offers free tours beginning May through October. As Cook guides guests along these tours, he enjoys telling his story and showing how their sea salt is created. Twenty years after their original product hit local fish markets, the Cooks are well on their way to fulfilling their dream of “bringing the ocean to everyone."
Olivia MacDonald received a degree in English from the University of Maine and has enjoyed a career writing and editing.