Tantalise and delight your tastebuds, on this fascinating food & culture visit to the salt marshes of the Sapal de Castro Marim Nature Reserve.
Within just a few minutes’ drive from the elegant Grand House hotel one arrives in a wild and natural landscape of marine marshes and meadows. This area is not only rich in wildlife, but also abundant with salt which has been exported from the Algarve for more than half a millennium. This humble kitchen ingredient was once a commodity so valuable it was a major contributor to Portugal’s status as a world power in the 15th & 16th centuries.
During this personalised tour guests discover that salt from this protected landscape is once again a prized commodity, but this time by gourmet chefs and enthusiastic home cooks.
‘Salmarim’ is one of the few remaining family-owned artisan companies that still harvests salt in the traditional way. Jorge Raiado, our tour host, shares his passion and expertise in salt making.It starts at the salt basins. Once flooded with seawater, the magic begins. As the water evaporates, Jorge explains, flor de sal (delicate, jewel-like pyramid crystals of salt) form and rise to the surface. You might even get the chance to try your hand at harvesting this ‘caviar of salts’.
Once inside Jorge’s traditional salt barn one learns more of the different types of salts: from robust sea salt to the different types of subtle flor del sal, valued for its natural moisture, complex flavour, and richness in healthy minerals (including magnesium, calcium, and potassium). Little wonder some of the finest award winning restaurants across Portugal and beyond use this Algarve flor de sal to finish their dishes, often coming to Salmarin to create their own unique ‘blend’ of crystals.
What better way to experience the transformative powers of salt than trying it with food? Jorge begins with offering local artisan cheese and organic tomatoes so one can relish the difference in flavours with a dusting of flor de sal.
Glasses are filled with sparkling Portuguese wine, and the barn is filled with the sound of pops and crackles, and the fresh smell of the sea. Jorge places a large tray, laden with a generous layer of sea salt, upon a small gas stove. This bed of white jewel sis all that is needed to cook jumbo Scarlet Cardinal carabineros Atlantic prawns to perfection.