Knee-deep in the improbably pink marsh water of the Camargue, on the southern coast of France, I shoveled fleur de sel crystals onto the shore into shimmering mounds, the same way that the sauniers, traditional salt workers, toiling around me on a hot July morning have been doing in that region since Roman times.
Eric Beaumer, a master saunier at Le Saunier de Camargue, sprinkled some of the warm, damp salt into my hand. I licked my palm and the shards crunched, then dissolved in a saline burst. It was the same mineral rush I had experienced earlier that day when I sprinkled fleur de sel on my eggs, and the one I would have again two hours later with a tomato salad. The brittle crystals made the eggs seem more custardy, the tomatoes more ripely sweet. That’s the magic of flaky sea salt: It makes food taste more deeply of itself.
Legions of chefs and home cooks have fallen hard for fancy, flaky salt — even though it can cost more than 10 times as much as the stuff you’d find in a shaker. But 30 years ago, here in the Camargue, only a few devoted sauniers bothered to harvest fleur de sel at all.