never leave your bones
like salt in the sea;
they become part of you
and you carry them. –author unknown
On an island off the western coast of Norway, there is a woman. A woman who loves salt, who loves the sea, and who loves to eat well. A self-taught sea salt producer who is helping shape the culinary innovations in Norway with her family and team at North Sea Salt Works.
An American raised in Portland, Oregon, Michal was already accustomed to savoring the moments of life and appreciating what the land provided. If you ask her, she will tell you that her life’s path was carved from these building blocks and it brought her to where she is today: working on the small island of Gossen, Norway and drawing sustenance from the sea that surrounds it.
I read the story about North Sea Salt Works not long after I moved to Norway, and it resonated with me that Michal had found her place in Norway off the beaten track and was doing what she loved. We met a few years later at the annual food festival in Bergen and I made it a point to head over to her booth to introduce myself. With a crowd of eager customers around her, she gracefully stepped aside to share a brief conversation with me. Turns out she knew of me as well and there, under a white booth in Bergen, our friendship began. Two Americans who had found themselves in Norway, both passionate about local ingredients and eating well.
I made my plan to visit her in the summer, as part of a little coastal journey to go crab fishing in Ona and taste local sild not far from her factory. From Molde, we took the ferry across to Aukra and drove a little way to a building nestled by the shoreline. I could smell the sea as I got out of the car; the breeze tossing my hair and the grey clouds settling above the jutting rocks. Small pockets of wildflowers were in blossom and with just a glance out beyond the water’s edge, I immediately understand where her inspiration was being drawn from.
She opened the door and welcomed us in with a warm embrace, the kind you expect from an old friend. She gave us a tour of the production, explaining the science behind it all. Outside and by the water’s edge, she pointed out to the source of where they harvest: cold, pure seawater from Saltsteinsleia in the Norwegian Sea. She explained that friends of hers, who are divers, found this particular spot for her. Beneath is a bed of shellfish that helps filter the water and increase the mineral content. Ideal when it comes to extracting quality salt.
We chatted endlessly and decided it was best to make our way to the office to sit down and drink a cup of coffee. Michal showed me some of the exciting projects and collaborations she and her team are working on and we tasted a few selections. The same thoughts kept popping in my mind: her salt is excellent; her enthusiasm is contagious; and her creativity is bountiful. I just wish I could have stayed much longer than planned to soak it all in.
Michal’s journey to sea salt is one that was in the making for a long time. She has always loved salt, so the love affair was there. It was about the time she helped her son on a Lewis and Clark project about the salt works they created in Astoria, Oregon for school that her path to salt making began taking shape. One day, on the playground with her kids, she had a conversation with her friend, Mark Bitterman. I suspect after dabbling in various subjects, they stumbled upon his love for salt as well and that he, in fact, was in the middle of writing his book on salt called Salted. What was initially a friendly encounter turned serendipitous as Mark would later become an important advisor for her salt production.
She moved to Norway with her husband and boys in 2011, to the island of Gossen in Aukra where his parents live. After settling in and embracing the island life, she found herself asking if anyone was producing local salt from the surrounding sea and if not, why? No one was and that answer continued to pull at her. Here was an incredible natural resource and if no one else was making sea salt then surely someone should be.
This thought and her curiosity of creating salt finally got the best of her. She gathered some sea water and used an old crab cooker in the boathouse to boil down the water. Her first experiment was something she looks back on fondly today. She kept the small sample in a glass spice jar, and has it prominently placed in the office to remind her of how far she has come. While it wasn’t the most successful of experiments, it was the start of the beginning.
With the goal of reinvigorating and reinterpreting Norway’s centuries old production of one of the worlds’ most essential minerals, while building on traditions dating back to the Viking era, her tests continued in Oslo. She sent several samples back to Mark, who encouraged her that she was onto something special.
She certainly was and began commercially making salt in 2014, in the facility where she is currently at. Today, North Sea Salt Works is one of the best producers of sea salt in Norway using 100% renewable energy and sustainable manufacturing processes.
She takes the salt in her hands and crunches it in her fingers, moving it back and forth, dropping it, picking it up again. It’s therapeutic and hypnotizing all at once as it draws you in a state of relaxation.
There’s just something calming about the sound and lightness. It looks like snow; pure white with beautiful, graceful flakes that inevitably are the inspiration behind the name Havsnø or “sea snow”. It’s the mineral content of the cold and clean seawater that makes Havsnø’s crystalling white flakes flat and soft with a light crunchy feeling. The salt has a concentrated salty but clean taste without bitterness arising from the naturally occurring trace minerals. They produce four varieties of salt from the same batch.
- Havnsø – Culinary salt used as a finishing salt to accentuate and enhance the flavours of the food.
- Kråkeboller – Fine salt that has the same consistency and application as kosher salt.
- Tønne – The practical workhouse of the varieties; great for salting water and prepping food for grilling.
- Fjære – havsnø mixed with organically grown sugar kelp from TANGO seaweed; a great seasoning salt.
North Sea Salt Works has won numerous awards, can be found throughout Norway, and is on the table at some of Norway’s highest end restaurants. It doesn’t stop there though. They are certified 100% hydro with the water coming from a single waterfall and their goal is to have zero waste by the end of 2021.
Entrepreneurship and employment for young adults from the local area is high on Michal’s agenda. She partners with the local school and employs these young adults to teach them valuable skills and encourage them in their dreams, passions, and drives. They learn everything from marketing, packaging, and building lightbulbs to innovating what it means to create quality and using the byproducts of salt production. She is passionate about building the local community and creating jobs to maintain life on the island. You can clearly see the positive impact she is already having and there is no doubt that more is to come.
Michal is a gentle powerhouse who exudes warmth and passion. There’s no denying that she means business and is determined to impact her community and Norway in the way we approach how we eat and what we eat, as well as building up the next generation of innovators. It’s people like Michal and her team who will utilize and impact this beautiful landscape for the greater good.
Sometimes you just need a little salt to make everything better.