Tuesday, November 26, 2013

San Felipe Salts

Last October I took a trip to Guadalupe Valley with a group of friends to celebrate several birthdays. On the first evening, Javier Plascencia hosted a massive birthday party at his new restaurant called Finca Altozano. Since the group of friends were a mix of chefs, artisan vendors, food writers, and restaurant and market owners, it wasn't surprising that the dinner was also a way to introduce those of us from north of the border to some interesting new Baja food purveyors.

And that's how I met Francisco Sosa Mendez of San Felipe Salt Co. He was there with dozens of gorgeous turquoise blue grinder bottles of salts from the Sea of Cortez. I snagged a garlic-flavored bottle that behind the glass displayed big chunks of sea salt intermingled with equally big chunks of roasted garlic. It's become my go-to grind for roasted vegetables, chicken, and meats.

Of course, that's not San Felipe Salt Co.'s only variety. They've developed several while also selling natural sea salts that come in the forms of rock salt, coarse, and small grind for rimming cocktail glasses.

I managed to acquire five salts, including the garlic--each unique. The Chipotle, a powerful dark blend of sea salt, chipotles, and cacao beans has that smoky sweet heat you crave from chipotles.

The Copal is a smoked sea salt. Plascencia tells me that he uses this salt--a blend of sea salt and wood smoke from copal wood--for their wood-roasted quail and for the suckling pig. "We like it because it gives the dishes a more smokey wood flavor."

The Mexicana is a killer hot salt. Use with caution, but be sure to use it because it's got a punch of flavor from habanero, chipotle, pico de pajaro, and chiltepin chiles.

Then there's the very simple, but lovely Natural. The naked sea salt. Plascencia uses it as a finishing salt on meats and other dishes, including vegetable dishes like his garden tomatoes mixed with olive oil and fresh oregano on toasted bread.

Plascencia says he also uses San Felipe's margarita salt with chapulines for their mescal margaritas and other mescal drinks. "The salt is a bit wet, not like Maldon, but its flavor is great; it has a very natural pure taste."

And that's what I've come to appreciate in these salts. It sits well on the tongue. It's smooth. It plays well with other flavors, and, truly enhances them.

Sosa is actually a co-owner of the business with Michele and Bob MacDonald, who retired to San Felipe a few years ago with the idea of traveling and playing in the desert. But, they got bored. They had noticed trucks coming out of the salina, or salt flats, in San Felipe and decided to investigate. After tasting the salt, they decided to send it out to labs in both Mexico and the U.S. for testing and all of the testing, according to Michele MacDonald, came back with the same results. "The salt was low in sodium chloride, very high in trace elements, and had no pollutants. We knew we had a winner."

They got the shape of the distinctive bottle from Bob whittling a large candle. And, they say, they had a business. They had met Sosa, an attorney, at Rotary in San Felipe and asked him for help forming the Mexican corporation. They all got along so well, sharing a passion for gourmet food and Baja wines, that he then became a partner.

The flavors have naturally evolved, says Michele, some directly influenced by work with major Mexican chefs, including Aquiles Chaves, Benito Molina and his wife Solang, and, of course, Plascencia.

You can purchase the salts online--and the bottles are refillable if you email Michele at michele@sanfelipesalt.com. San Diegans can also buy San Felipe salts in Old Town at Fiesta Cocina on Calhoun St.

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