Chuzo de Sal: Spanish Salt Stalagmites from Añana

  • Country of Origin: Spain
  • Region: Basque
  • Flavor profile: Bright minerality with savory undertones and a creamy finish.
  • Quantity: Approx. 110 g

if you are looking for the perfect finishing touch to brandish in front of customers with flourish and gusto without a weekly order of fresh truffles (which we are also happy to facilitate) we’ve got just the thing:  Salt.  But not just any salt, salt stalagmites from an ancient salt mining village in Basque Country.

Okay, we know they verge on ridiculous.  But perhaps also just cool enough to pique your interest? Yes?

If you know a thing or two about salt, you know that it either comes from the sea or a mine.  And since the later is rarely equated with traditional salt production, you know that the majority of high-end finishing salts are harvested from the sea.  So what’s the deal with this landlocked valley in Northern Spain producing legendary Flor de Sal?

Añana sits about 50 km south of Bilbao, in the mountainous landscape of Basque country.  The oldest human records of human settlements date back 5,000 years.  200 million years ago, an ocean covering the valley dried up, leaving salt deposits several kilometers thick.  Thanks to a natural springs that run through the salt deposits, brine bubbles up to the surface of the earth, allowing for the salt to be harvested through evaporation, rather than mining.  Several springs supply around 260 liters of fully saturated brine daily to the village, which trickles through elevated troughs to supply a patchwork maze of salt flats.  As competition for sunlight is fierce, the flats have been built up on stilts to get at the choicest real estate.

But elevated salt flats have a one small problem – they leak.  Even the smallest pinhole can allow brine to slowly drip, over time creating a stalagmite of salt.  These used to be considered a nuisance – evidence your salt flat had sprung a leak.  But seeing as its basically the same great stuff they use to make Flor de Sal, the salt makers began snapping off the salt-cicles to sell to inquiring chefs around Spain.

We just had some shipped from Spain to the frozen tundra of Minnesota for you to grate over dishes to add that “je ne sais quoi.”  We also sell the Flor de Sal in nice crunchy flakes.

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Great Ciao Top 10 List for September

Do you ever get asked your favorite thing is, only for your mind to go blank?  I get asked on a daily basis what is new and exciting at Great Ciao, only for the same thing to happen.  With a warehouse full of fancy groceries, and new ones coming in every day, there is just no excuse for that.  So this afternoon I went old school and walked through the warehouse with a whiteboard to brainstorm my top ten list of foods I’m excited about for September.

10. Mozzarella di Bufala
As Minnesotans, we shouldn’t be so eager to usher in fall menus and pumpkin spice everything when we know the weather that lies ahead.  We still have plenty of delicious Mozzarella di Bufala, brought in direct by air-freight from Italy to the 612.

9. Red Boat Fish Sauce
While it may be pungent when tasted solo, Red Boat Fish Sauce is liquid gold, adding a big hit of meaty brothy umami flavor to every dish it touches.  Founder Cuong Pham started a small factory on the tropical island of Phu Quac in 2006.  When the fisherman return to the port, native black anchovies are cleaned, and packed in salt into tropical wood barrels.  The tropical wood barrels impart a vivid fruity sweetness into the fish sauce and soften its intensity.  We have Red Boat Fish Sauce in both retail and foodservice sizes.

8. Maritime Lavender Honey
French lavender honey (a mono-floral honey collected from bees pollinating lavender fields, rather than being lavender infused) is delicious enough, but this version was collected from bees pollinating  lavender off the coast of southern France, which adds a breath of briney ocean air to its perfumed sweetness.  It is every bit as delicious as it is esoteric (and I really dig it.)

7. Pralus Chuao Bars
These tasty chocolate bars just arrived from France, and they are one of our combined favorites.  Chuao is one of Francois Pralus’ most esteemed bars, collected from a single plantation in Venezuala.  We love it for its deep, earthy, cigar-tobacco-y, dried fruit and leather flavor and aroma.  Most of the time we hoard it for ourselves, but we could also sell it to you if you ask nicely.

6. Italian Wild Fennel Pollen
This stuff is the magical fairy dust of the spice kingdom.  Wild fennel pollen is more floral, sweet, and fragrant than fresh fennel fronds.  A little goes a long way, and now that the weather is cooling down (despite my protests) I’m excited to use it on roasted meats and root vegetables.  I also love sprinkling fennel pollen over a slice of Bucheron goat cheese and a drizzle of Acacia honey for a simple but elegant cheese course.

5. Arroyabe Ventresca Tuna Belly
Who knew that canned tuna could be so irresistable? Answer: The Spanish, but they were probably keeping it to themselves.  Ventresca is the belly cut of the small Bonito del Norte breed of Tuna that makes an annual run off the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  The tender fillets are packed in olive oil, and deserve to be sprinkled with good salt and eaten straight out of the can.

4. Great Ciao Signature Balsamic Condiment from Compania del Montale
Three years ago, we set out to develop a signature balsamic with Compania del Montale, a small Acetorium in Modena.  It took countless sample vials, tastings, and transatlantic journeys before we settled on a blend that was finished in Juniper barrels and had a luxurious velvety-thick texture.  This is as good as you can get without breaking the bank for Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.  We have it in both 500ml. foodservice bottles, and in the pretty 250 ml. bottle you see pictured.

3. Unio Muscatel Vinegar
Two vinegars in a row? Well, you can never have enough good vinegar in your arsenal.  Made from Spanish Moscatel grapes, this vinegar has a crisp acidic backbone balanced by candied lemon sweetness, all at once aromatic and complex with lively overtones of melon and honey. Perfect for a vinaigrette, but sweet enough to enjoy with soda water for a refreshing vinegar spritzer.

2. Haricot Soisson
One of the two classic beans used for cassoulet (the other being the more well known Tarbais bean) Soisson beans are much bigger, plumper, and practically beg to be infused with duck fat, sausage, and whatever other meaty tid-bits you can throw their way.  Soisson beans nearly double in size after soaking, and become rich and creamy once cooked.

1. Finally! Local Honeycomb from Ames Farm
We are always looking to find the ingredients our customers request, and local honeycomb has been one of the hardest things to source given the state of our bee population in Minnesota.  Fortunately, Brian at Ames Farm had an awesome year that exceeded his expectations, and we finally have delicious local honeycomb at your beckon call!



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Fleur d’America: Jacobsen Flake Sea Salt Now at Great Ciao

Ben Jacobsen’s obsession with salt began when he was finishing his MBA in Copenhagen, and a friend gifted him with a bag of fleur de sel.  Until that point, he had never given much thought to the ubiquitous seasoning.  As a self-professed non-cook, he was amazed by the ability of good crunchy salt to elevate simple pleasures – and used it on everything from fried eggs to hamburgers.  He spent the next few years traveling around the world, amassing an arsenal of hand-made salts from around the world.

When he returned home to Oregon, he was surprised to learn that even though the United States was the leading producer of commercial salt – nobody was making the good stuff.  At the time the food scene in Portland was just taking off, and while the chefs and foodies praised everything local, the finishing salts they used were hailing from across the pond.

Brittany, France is home to Fleur de Sel, where miles of channels through gently sloping marshlands purify and concentrate the salt content before it reaches the salt flats.  As the salt crystallizes under the warm sun, highly trained palladiers gently scoop out the prized crystals of fleur de sel as they form on the surface of the flats.  Which is great; if you live in an area with consistently warm sunny days, and a gentle coastal breeze.  Lacking Brittany’s ideal climate in notoriously damp Oregon, Ben went the route of Maldon, an equally famous finishing salt from the equally drizzly country of Wales.

And so he got to tinkering.  On days that his crabbing excursions left him empty handed, he would lug buckets of saltwater back 90 miles inland to Portland.  Since nobody else was making artisan salts at the time, he had to reverse engineer the process.  He knew that getting to the salt would involve evaporation, and so he would boil the water off on his stove, and wait for his precious crystals to form.  The first batches weren’t the best, but showed enough promise for him to leave his career in the tech industry and seek out a commercial cooking space to begin producing in earnest.

While researching, he learned that he wasn’t the first person to harvest salt from coast of Oregon, Louis and Clark had spent a few months boiling down seawater to crystallized salt in an effort to avoid bland food on the return journey.  Ben’s first step was to source the best quality seawater.  He made test batches of salt sampled from thirty different locations up the coast of Oregon and finally settled on water from Netarts Bay.  The next step was to fine-tune the process.  He began using a variety of filters and processes to remove the minerals responsible for bitter off-flavors, and had stainless evaporation pans custom-made.  The process takes 14 hours to get from salt water to flake salt..

Once Ben fine-tuned the process, it didn’t take long for both local and world renowned chefs to sing his praises: Thomas Keller, Paul Kahan and April Bloomfield are all big fans.  As demand for his product grew, he moved his business from the commercial kitchen space in Portland, to a 3,500 square foot decommissioned oyster farm on Netarts bay.  While the larger space allows him to keep up with demand, his process remains steadfastly low-tech.  A new retail warehouse space in Portland doubles as a event space for visiting chefs to host pop-up dinners featuring his salt.  At Great Ciao we’ve also jumped on the American-made finishing salt bandwagon.  Jacobsen Flake Salt is available in both foodservice and retail sizes.  Ask us for a taste!

Tasting Notes: Jacobsen Flake Salt is clean, bright and a little sweet, with large pyramid shaped crystals and a delicate crunchy texture.  Perfect as a finishing salt for just about everything.


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New at Great Ciao! Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co.

Available now at Great Ciao in 3.5lb bags for foodservice, as well as is 4oz bags for retailers.
Please call us at 612.521.8725 for questions related to pricing.

Their Story

Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. started early one morning in April of 2000 on the wood stove of a remote Alaska cabin. While celebrating our first anniversary, we woke to find sea salt forming on the surface of a pan of sea water we’d left on the wood stove overnight. We were intrigued.

Every April, we return to the same wilderness cabin and make “anniversary” salt for use in our kitchen. This simple culinary find ignited a passion in both of us to learn more about great food and artisanal ingredients.

In 2005 we got serious. We had a dream to produce North America’s first flake style sea salt. The process brought out the science nerd in Jim as he tenaciously tried to create the perfect pyramidal flake, and the chef wannabe in Darcy as she experimented with flavors and infusions. It didn’t happen fast, and it wasn’t easy. Over the course of 6 years, we carried thousands of heavy water jugs up steep harbor ramps, considered marriage counseling several times, and had to replace a rusted out stainless steel range hood. Happily, this eventually lead to a refined product that we are proud to share with others.

In 2008, we began supplying salt to some of the nation’s best chefs and now it is available to you. Alaska Pure Sea Salt is created with a passion for great food, wild places, pristine water, and of course, each other. We hope you enjoy our salt with as much enthusiasm as we have for producing it.

Jim and Darcy Michener

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Tasmanian Peppercorns

Tasmanian peppercorns are found mostly in…  Tasmania! But they also grow in Victoria and New South Wales.  Tasmania’s native ‘pepper’ is one of nine genera from the winteraceae family, also known as a Mountain Pepper. These black berries are hand-harvested between March and May.  We have described them as sweet, fruity, succulent and spicy. The berry is fairly soft and has a crunchy seed cluster at the center. The flavor experience of the Tasmanian peppercorns is dynamic, from sweet fruitiness to a short-lasting intense heat that finishes with a menthol-like numbness similar to Szechuan pepper.

They are a great alternative to regular peppercorns though they should probably be used and treated differently.  They infuse broths for soup or cream for chocolate truffles with a wonderful aroma.  After poaching they berry loses its heat but maintains an almost currant like fruitiness and texture.  The berry after poaching can be a interesting edible garnish.  Pickle the berry with mustard seeds and it adds a vibrant red color as well as a neat kind of heat.  A few folks have been using them in charcuterie as well, and we can’t wait to taste those salamis!

We don’t carry a lot of spices, but those we do carry are remarkable.  Enjoy!

Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages:

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