The Great Salt Mountain

I discovered a new geographical feature today in Tunisia.  Utah has its Great Salt Lake and Salt Flats, but Monastir, Tunisia has a great salt mountain.

I have long wanted to answer my curious mind about how sea salt is produced.  I guess I pictured something like rivulets, hand-dug with wooden tools,  on a pristine beach, evaporating at the rate dictated by the sun and the wind.  The magical layer of fleur de sel occurring only when the sun and wind create the elusive but necessary conditions.  Well, the basic premise of that is correct, but the scale of production is exponentially magnified.

Here in Tunisia, the conditions are perfect for the production and harvest of sea salt only from May to September, with a peak window of about 5 weeks.  All of the salt gleaned from that harvet is augered into one enormous mountain that sits uncovered, outdoors and for the rest of the year, the business is all about processing, packaging, and distributing the product for sales.

I saw the evaporation ponds where Mediterranean sea water is piped in and the evaporation takes place, but I was off season and didn’t get to observe the actual formation of the salt crystals.  Another visit will be in order in the summer.  Salt, however, clearly wanted to happen everywhere.  Anywhere drips of seawater were left unattended, salt wanted to emerge.  It also wanted to sift through the processing in fine salt hills that caught the next wind and made a salt blizzard in the air.

Our hosts at La Rose de Sel were so hospitable and we left them to continue digging away in their salty wonderland.  The references to snow are inescapable in the ways salt crystallizes, powders, and drifts.  It gets into every crack and crevice, filling the air, itself.  My hair wasn’t white when I left, but there was a fine dusting all over me, detected for hours every time  I licked my lips.

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