A Sense Of Place | Bulls Bay Saltworks
In our new monthly series, “A Sense Of Place”, we will introduce you to some of the regional farmers, growers and producers who supply us with the ingredients we use to make our chocolate, confections and pastries. Sourcing is at the heart of everything we do here at French Broad Chocolates and we share these stories in celebration of the many fine folks who make up our foodshed. We do this in keeping with our tradition of transparency and passion for sustainability, and in the hopes that these stories help you to form a deeper connection with your food (and also because we’re major foodies and absolutely love geeking out over all of our food crushes!).
Our Sea Salt 75% bar is relatively new to our lineup of Artisan Bars. When I asked Crawford Rizor, our Head Chocolate Maker, to talk about the history behind this particular bar, I was sure that I’d come away both sated with information and craving chocolate. I wasn’t disappointed:
“For some time, we have been excited to find another use for Cacao Bisiesto, the origin for our Nicaraguan seed, which we hold in very high regard…” He continues “It is our strongest sourcing relationship and overall, one of our favorite cacaos to work with, though it does have a distinct flavor profile which limits itvs uses in some cases. At the time we were creating our 2016-2018 chocolate portfolio, it became clear that a dark chocolate with sea-salt was a strong candidate for our bar line-up. We previously had offered a 75% dark chocolate with cacao from Morropón, Perú and sea salt flakes from Maldon, and while we were happy with the concept and the salt, the bar as a whole didn’t mesh as well as we would have hoped. With those things in mind, we set out to come up something that just really worked.. After running a cacao through our sampling procedure that takes it from seed to liquor and determining its objective quality, we test it as four additional standard formulations to begin to hone in on its best subjective use: 65%, 75% and 85% dark, as well as a 60% dark milk. We made the determination to continue offering our 68% dark bar made with this cacao (a 2-ingredient bar that has won several awards to date), the 85% was perceived to be out of balance and the dark milk was an off-putting color; besides reaching the 75% as the only viable option by exclusion, we were exceptionally happy with the way the first batch turned out. It became immediately obvious that this was a strong contender for a salt bar.”
Crawford explained that the tasting notes included cacao shell, peanuts, BBQ chips, buttered biscuit, savory, fried chicken batter and that they felt that it was practically begging to be paired with a well-balanced sea salt.
The chocolate team did tests with a Peruvian pink salt, Maldon, and Carolina Flake from Bulls Bay Saltworks, who our co-owner Dan Rattigan had met last year at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival. The chocolate team found the Carolina Flake crystals to be an ideal textural complement to the softness and high-fat content of the cacao, and loved how the salinity and clean minerality were in great balance with the flavors of this chocolate. And, Crawford excitedly adds, “It just so happens that this salt is produced as close as is possible to our mountain town, rather than in the UK or Perú!”
In sticking with our theme of origins, the source and “merroir” (think terroir but of the sea instead of earth) of the water itself is a huge part of what makes Bulls Bay’s salt so special. I paid a visit to Bulls Bay Saltworks, located just outside of Charleston, SC back in April. Owners Teresa and Rustin Gooden enthusiastically showed me the greenhouse where they use solar and wind energy to transform seawater into the Carolina Flake as well as the rest of their lineup. We then drove just a couple of miles to the absolutely gorgeous spot where they harvest the water.
“The area where we get the water is called Lofton’s Landing and it's on the edge of Bulls Bay and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, “ Teresa explains. “It’s buffered by over 200,000 acres of the Francis Marion National Forest and part of a Class One Wilderness Area which protects the air quality. It is also Shellfish Harvesting Area 7A as designated by DHEC who regulates the commercial harvest of the very popular Bulls Bay clams and oysters.” She enthusiastically adds… “Cape Romain is also included in the UNESCO South Atlantic Coastal Plain Biosphere Reserve, is part of the Atlantic Flyway - critical to migrating birds, and the location of the largest nesting grounds of the endangered loggerhead sea turtle, with more active nests found in our area than all of the rest of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina combined.”
The Goodens describe the beginning of their multi-step process “First we decide when to collect water, this decision is largely based on the how high the tide will be and how recently it has rained. This week we have a new moon and the tide will be the highest of the month increasing the salinity of the water as the salt that has collected on the grasses and higher ground redissolves with the high water. To take advantage of those conditions, we'll make three or four trips on Thursday and Friday, collecting around 1,000 gallons each trip. “
Back on the home property, the Goodens pump the water into storage tanks. Some of the water makes its way into the smaller storage tanks inside the greenhouses and into the empty tubs as needed for evaporation. Under sunny, dry weather conditions they start seeing salt form in less than two weeks, when most of the liquid has evaporated. The harvested salt is given a quick rinse in a concentrated brine and then it is set up to dry.
In case it wasn’t apparent by now, we couldn’t be more excited about our collaboration with Bulls Bay Saltworks. Teresa and Rustin are truly kindred spirits and we are over the moon elated to share our Sea Salt 75% bar with you. Crafted using only three ingredients, it is a perfect example of the whole being so much more than the sum of its parts.
You can sample and purchase our Sea Salt 75% bar in any of our brick + mortar locations in Asheville and on our website (we ship nationwide!).