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Poul Christensen, former mayor of Læsø (population 2,000), a tiny Danish island in Kattegat Bay, stands in a humid wooden hut stirring a vat of steaming brine with a large rake. A few flakes of salt fall from the rafters into his curly hair. Unfazed, he continues his demonstration of a recently revived sea-salt extraction technique, a weeklong simmering process that produces chunky, delicious crystals. “You cannot boil the water,” he says. “If you do, the salt will turn gray and bitter.”
Læsø’s briny groundwater, combined with the region’s dry summers, made it a salt production center during the Middle Ages. But with the expansion of this timber-reliant industry came deforestation, and after sandstorms whipped across the subsequently unprotected island and almost destroyed it, the process was banned for nearly a century. Many unemployed islanders found work on freighters, and some resorted to scavenging shipwrecks.
Skip ahead to the late 1980s, when Christensen was working as an instructor for at-risk youth. Looking for a way to create jobs for idle teens, he hit upon the idea of reviving the island’s salt industry — but this time on a smaller scale, so it wouldn’t have the same negative consequences.
There was just one problem: No written record of the salt-making process existed. So Christensen headed to Luisenhall in Germany, the nearest similar salt facility, where he was shown traditional methods by seventh-generation salt makers. The first Læsø kiln was raised in 1991; today, Læsø salt retails for $20 a pound.
Demonstration concluded, Christensen offers a nugget to one of his guests. She tastes it, licks her lips thoughtfully — and hurries off to the gift shop to stock up. — BRITTANY SHOOT