It’s Mark’s eyes that draw you in. I first came across them at a food conference in an expansive dining hall in Denver filled with big round tables and mounds of mini croissants. They were clear and blue and electric, like the calm before a storm or a lazy careless morning on the shores of St. Barts, but when they are engaged in a conversation with you, a conversation inevitably and rightfully about, what else, salt, the entire room gets filled with an intoxicating culinary energy that is simply contagious.
Mark Bitterman, owner and self-proclaimed selmelier of The Meadow shop in Portland, Oregon first told me about his store specializing in salts, flowers, drinks and chocolates when we first met in Denver. It sounded lovely to own a quaint shop in the even quainter town of Portland and I imagined it overflowing with roses and pinot noir and an old-time world charm non-existent to my South Florida neighborhood whose foundations seem built on an abhorred obsession with strip malls and Applebees restaurants.
Then I attended his salt tasting at the Greenbrier and I was a changed woman. It was the nightcap to an evening filled with good wine and food. No doubt the wrong time for this, I thought to myself as my belly sat complacent and my body ached for my warm bed. I’m too full, and, it’s just salt, right? But I went anyway, because, quite frankly, how often can one say they’ve attended a salt tasting?
The room was cramped with other equally intoxicated foodies from the conference and Mark and a colleague were feverishly slicing cucumbers and buttering breads (I learned this was the way to sample salts, both a wet tasting and a dry one, respectively). And once that was all set, that is when those electric eyes kicked in as Mark pulled tiny glass bottles of multi-colored salt crystals, describing their characteristics, origins and tastes with the care, attention and passion a father does of his own children (this one has a mischievous streak, this one is faithful and delicious, this one will capture your heart.) I basked in an impassioned survey of the world of salt from colors to crystal formations to textures and realized it was a world I knew nothing about, one where I learned I’d been, not only neglecting but abusing my taste buds with Kosher salt (tsk tsk), an item too sharp and unpolished to warrant the tongue.
It sounded crazy unless you were in that room, with that man and his cucumber and bread slices, and then it was just right because not only did he teach you, but he showed you as well, with bite after bite of salts, I learned to understand the nuances and beauty of the world of salt. And just like that, I was forever infected.
The night ended with a big show-off item: a huge beautiful block of Himalayan salt. Mark explained the many usages for such a block: from frying up the best egg ever, to sizzling pomme frites (use the duck fat from that is cooking on your block as well), to curing sashimi and I knew that, alongside all the new salts I had to purchase to feel complete I must also have one of these.
As folks prepare to dish out the pizza, chicken wings and nachos for this weekend’s Superbowl, I will be fetching my beautiful block of salt for the simplest and tastiest of snacks: ensalata caprese. Thin slices of fresh mozzarella and plump tomato hugged by my garden basil and cured by my Himalayan beauty swim wonders on my tastebuds, making that, the best touchdown ever!
Himalayan Salt Caprese Salad
Surprisingly, this dish goes well with beer!
1 tomato, thinly sliced
2 balls fresh mozarella, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil
Overlap items directly on the block and allow to sit for several minutes before eating. To clean, simply rinse block with water and let dry before storing.