29 December 2018

Noirmoutier : marais salants et « fleur de sel »

One of the biggest industries on the Île de Noirmoutier — along with tourism, fishing, and farming — is the production of sea salt and the specialty product called fleur de sel. In a good year, the saltworks on the island produce as much as three thousand tons of what has been called "white gold" — but it all depends on the weather in any given year. "Salt" is sel in French.

Canals and evaporation ponds called marais salants cover about a third of the island. A hundred or so "salt harvesters" work them nowadays — there's a cooperative. The whole infrastructure is man-made and has been developed over the course of the centuries.

Seawater flows in through canals, is contained in shallow ponds with impermeable clay bottoms, and evaporates in the dry, sunny, breezy summer weather. The salt crystallizes, and harvesters (sauniers in French) use wooden "skimmers" (raclettes, like squeegees) to rake it up and collect it. Read more about it here and here.

The fleur de sel is the finest grade of sea salt, and is harvested off the surface of the ponds. None of the salt is processed or refined. It's just collected and set out on tables in the sun to dry, so it is 100% natural. The industry has had its ups and downs over the past century, but is on the upswing today. The salt is artisanal and natural — a luxury product.

You can buy little bags of the sea salt and fleur de sel from the sauniers out in the marshes or in shops all over the island. It's very good sprinkled on boiled or steamed Noirmoutier potatoes, called bonnottes, which are grown in the island's sandy soil.

There's an interesting Carnets de Julie segment about the saltworks on Noirmoutier here. And there's another one about saltworks on the nearby Île de Ré here.


  1. We've visited the ones on Ile de Ré. Super interesting.

    1. I'd like to do that one day. We didn't go to Ré because we knew we were going to Noirmoutier two days later. Next time...

  2. This is fascinating...glad you liked the taste. Pink "Himalayan" sea salt is very popular here; I think its actually from Pakistan.

  3. Interesting post. I like fleur de sel on tomatoes.

  4. Salt production in France is very interesting. We visited a salt museum in the Jura which contained a replica of what used to go on in that location (salt production still goes on nearby). Like the fleur de sel, it involved evaporation of salt from the water, but in this case it was underground water. It was a fascinating place.


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