There are tapas bars and taco bars. Then there are margarita bars and martini bars, but have you ever heard of a salt bar?
Our roving eye came across one at the Calabasas Farmers Market last Saturday, featuring premium, one-of-a-kind, gourmet salts from far-flung corners of the world.
Owner and president Brian Hepp stumbled upon the salt bar idea after leaving the corporate world. “I wanted to start something novel and unique,” said the salt connoisseur. “I was looking to put together presents for my family, because I didn’t have a lot of money at that time …They really liked the salts and seasonings I put together so I went from there.”
He launched Hepp’s Salt Bar in January 2011 with eight kinds of salt in three farmers markets. He now carries 25 salt varieties and has a presence in 11 farmers markets and a couple of retail stores around the Southland.
All the premium gourmet salts are 100 percent natural with no additives or anti-caking agents, according to Hepp who tests all of them in his kitchen. They come in different colors, textures and flavors. “Some are good for cooking while some are good for finishing or garnishing a dish,” he said.
There are six kinds of cooking salts, including the Sel Gris from France, which is what Hepp would normally suggest to people who are looking for a low sodium variety or a replacement for table salt. The other cooking salts include red clay, Himalayan pink and Kosher flake, which is also a multi-purpose, all-natural salt.
The finishing salt varieties include the Black Truffle, “the most flavorful salt in the whole world,” according to Hepp. Composed of Italian sea salt mixed with dried black truffles from the Abruzzi region of Italy, this very popular salt is the perfect garnish for egg and pasta dishes.
Fleur de Sel is another type of finishing salt. It is best used on vegetables, salads and roasted meat dishes. Last year, Hepp added 7-fire smoke, an intense salt, smoked with seven different types of wood. This US-sourced salt is perfect with meats, fish and vegetables. Another recent addition but quickly becoming a favorite among farmers’ market-goers is lemon salt, a natural sea salt infused with lemon powder. “Use it to rim margaritas or to saute your vegetables,” said Hepp.
Hepp was quick to point something out about salt usage. “There are no hard and fast rules in cooking with salt. We merely have suggestions for using them based on our own experience and feedback from clients,” he said.
All the salt varieties are Kosher, except for one. Averaging $5-10 for a 3.5-ounce jar or pouch, the salts came from Mexico, India, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Tahiti, the Himalayas, France, Australia, Italy, Hawaii and other parts of the US.
Moving forward, Hepp said, “We’ll continue to add and scout for more varieties as we get more feedback. So far, the response has been encouraging and phenomenal.”
Get your salt fix at any of the 11 farmers markets around the Southland, at Farm Shop in Brentwood, at We Olive in Thousand Oaks or at any of the 95 Sur La Table locations around the country. Orders can also be placed online.
The Calabasas Farmers Market is open from 8 am to 1 pm every Saturday at 23504 Calabasas Road, across the street from the Sagebrush Cantina.