Sun, wind, and seawater, These are the three ingredients of the sea salt of Trapani, a resource so precious that it is also known as “the white gold of Sicily”.
The production of Trapani’s sea salt takes place in the so-called saline, large basins where seawater is collected to produce sea salt, thanks to the sun and wind’s action. The coast including Trapani, Paceco e Marsala, where we find the saline, is still known today as the “Salt Road”.
The expression “white gold of Sicily” is by no means accidental (even though, as you probably know if you’re familiar with the history of manna, is not exclusive to Trapani’s sea salt). Its production is very ancient and dates back to a time where salt in general was considered such a rare and precious substance that it was often used as a bargaining chip instead of actual gold.
After centuries of sea salt production, it’s amazing to think that the extraction techniques have essentially remained the same and that the production is still carried out with fully artisanal processes. That’s precisely the distinctive mark of this salt’s quality, together with the clearness of the seawater in that particular area. An area which is part of the Riserva naturale orientata delle saline di Trapani e Paceco, a natural oasis, a reserve that hosts many birds.
The sea salt’s extraction follows an annual cycle and is the result of a slow procedure, measured according to the rhythm of nature, with the additional - but not invasive - human intervention. A cycle where every instrument, every action, has a special function, a value and even a specific name, something that marks the importance of a practice that represents a piece of this land's identity.
The cycle can be roughly divided into four periods:
Harvest of Cuordisale, sale integrale marino di Trapani - source saleditrapani.com
During springtime, the basins are “prepared”, cleaned from the dirt and waste that have formed in the winter and filled with seawater. This first phase can go on until June.
The second period is the sea salt production: the basins are cyclically filled with water, that passes from one to the next. In this phase, a perfect knowledge of production times and rhythms - as well as of weather conditions - becomes essential. The person who manages this delicate passage is the curatolo (the saline supervisor): he’s the one who decides whether and when the basins are ready to begin the “harvest”.
The actual harvest usually takes places in August and - if the weather allows - can go on till September or October. In this phase, the workers “break” the salt crust that formed on the basins’ surface and start piling up the sea salt, creating hills. The salt gets eventually stacked in bigger piles, partially covered with roof tiles, and left to dry under the sun.
Finally, the last period is the “sleep” phase (so to speak), when the basins are emptied and left to "rest" essentially all winter.
We can get different varieties of Trapani’s sea salt: the salt extracted from the center of the basin forms big crystals and is considered the purest and most refined.
The one harvested from the borders is instead thinner but less clean, and in general is considered less pure.
There is a third variety called “fior di sale” that's made of soft crystals that form on the surface of the basins.
It’s a unique sight, the one we see when we look at the saline of Trapani: a view that touches our spirits and, like a painting made of infinite nuances, offers itself to the eyes of the observers, a sea spotted with white hills that seem to sparkle with their own light, whether it’s the morning sunlight, or the soft sunset rays that make everything look pink.
A naturalistic heritage to be sure, but most of all, a piece of identity and tradition of an extraordinary territory.
The saline at sunset - source tripadvisor.it
|The inspiration for this “tour” comes from an original Sicilian project called Sikuleat. Sikuleat is a board game that - through strategies, trades and commercial exchanges - takes you into a journey at the heart of Sicilian history and culinary tradition. A funny and entertaining way of learning about Sicily itself. If you wish to know more, you can check our product page on Sikuleat.|
Cover photo: discoveritaly.alitalia.com