Coastal Living Magazine – November 2014

Salt is in season on California’s central coast. I might have expected the field-ripened strawberries, or the plump avocados sold seven for a dollar at roadside stands. I may have imagined the king salmon – succulent and pink, and fresh off the trawlers rocking in Monterey Bay – or the farmers’ market peaches, so juicy they practically detonate in your mouth. But of all the bounty I had envisioned before my road trip from Santa Cruz to Big Sur, the salt caught me by surprise.

Salt has a season? It does if you’re Robert Kirkland of the Monterey Bay Salt Company. Kirkland got into the business five years ago while surfing with friends. As they straddled their boards and waited for waves, someone pointed out the sea salt crusting on their wet suits, and wondered aloud if anything could be done with it. Kirkland went home, had a cold beer, and built a small tray that he filled with seawater. Two weeks later, the water had evaporated, and he had fresh salt crystals.

Today, Kirkland evaporates about 4,000 pounds of salt per year in five greenhouses from King City to Big Sur. He starts with pristine seawater from Monterey Bay. He pours the water into trays, and the sun does the rest. His salt houses need to be 110 degrees for ideal evaporation, so salt season is summer, when the temperature is right and the breeze is just so.

“It’s just like a good wine,” he tells me one afternoon in Carmel Valley, as I crunch down on a few tongue-tingling crystals. “It picks up characteristics from its environment.”

Kirkland sells some of the salt fresh to local chefs. The rest he stores in old Cabernet barrels, or mixes into special blends with dried citrus and wild peppercorns that he forages himself. And word is spreading. “It’s really starting to take off,” he says. Kirkland now sells his salt varieties to Whole Foods stores, as well as specialty shops in New York City, Japan, and China. The demand is as deep as Monterey Bay.

Monterey Bay Salt Company

PO Box 751
Seaside, CA 93955