Harvesting grey or coarse salt
Grey salt and fleur de sel are hand-harvested sea salts that come exclusively from salt marshes. They are unrefined and unwashed products after harvesting. They are formed by crystallisation, under the effect of evaporation due to the wind and the sun, and consist essentially of sodium chloride crystals, but also naturally of other mineral salts and trace elements.
The coarse salt, known as grey salt, is formed on the bottom of the crystallizer (oeillet) made of natural clay. The oeillet is the basic unit of a salt farm. It has a surface area of approximately 70 m². The bottom is flat or slightly curved so that the water level in the centre is minimal and a few centimetres at the edge. The salt crystallises on the bottom when the salt concentration reaches saturation at around 250 g/l. The bridges between these eyelets are widened in the middle to form a small platform (called a ladure). This is where the producer (salt worker) takes the salt and stores it for the first time.
This daily (or every two days) salt taking is carried out with a tool consisting of a 5-metre long handle with a rectangular blade at its end: the las. Handling this tool requires strength and skill. The producer’s gesture creates a wave that lifts the salt from the bottom, propelling it towards the ladure so as not to drag away the clay particles. The salt is then pulled up onto the ladure.
In harvesting the salt, the producer brings water into the crystallizer (eyelet). This quantity represents the volume that evaporates between two salt takes.
The average annual production of a crystallizer depends on its size. It varies from 800 kg to 1,300 kg (for 70 m² crystallizers), which corresponds to a variable daily intake of 35 to 70 kg. These figures can vary greatly depending on climatic conditions.
After draining for several hours on the ladure, the salt is transported to the trémet (a place built on the slopes of the saltworks) with a wheelbarrow. The piles of salt are called mulons.
Harvesting flower of salt
Fleur de sel is a lighter, white salt that is formed from floating crystals on the surface of the eyelets. The production of fleur de sel is the result of a very rapid crystallisation of the salt on the surface. It varies from day to day and is very dependent on the wind. The fleur de sel only forms in the afternoon. Its colour is white because it is never in contact with the clay bottom of the carnation.
The fleur de sel is harvested by hand, by skimming, from the surface of the carnations using a special tool: the lousse. This is done before the flower of salt sinks to the bottom of the basin. The fleur de sel then continues to drain naturally on suitable materials and in suitable containers.