Worth her salt

There aren’t many seasonings who can claim to have changed the course of human history, built empires and motivated entire economies. In fact, there is only one: Salt.

With its ability to preserve food almost indefinitely (a nice thing to have before the advent of refrigeration), salt has long been a commodity worth fighting and even dying for. Reaching back to the earliest humans until the early 1900’s salt was highly valued and often exorbitantly taxed, putting it out of the reach of most. Slaves were bought and sold with it, cakes of it were used as money, and rich folks would often put it in small silver cellars to impress their dinner guests.

With mechanization of the harvesting process (both from the sea and from salt mines) salt became pretty ubiquitous. And pretty boring. That iodized stuff in the shaker is light years away in flavor and texture to the hundreds of native salts from around the world–from red Hawaiian salts colored with volcanic clay to smoked and infused salts.

With more than a pinch of admiration for this historic seasoning, Chef Janine Falvo of Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar will host the first ever (as far as she knows) Salt Dinner on Oct. 18. Using different flavored and textured salts, as well as salt-centric preparations, she plans to create a unique meal that showcases the seasoning. Among her favorite salts: olive salt infused with local olive oil and smoked salt from Brittany.

“We’re building salt awareness,” she says with a grin. “I just love salt.”

The evening’s menu includes live scallops prepared three ways (truffle, chili and olive salt); a house-made gravlax (a salt-fermented salmon) with potato latkes; Duck Duck Goose, spice-infused duck confit, duck prosciutto and goose torchon; pork loin and belly with apple cider demi-glace and for dessert, a flourless chocolate cake with salted popcorn and chocolate soup. Sommelier Chris Sawyer will pair wines with the dishes.

Sound like sodium overload? Falvo says the dishes are meant to highlight different flavors and uses of salt, but won’t leave you reaching for the water pitcher. But, you know, you may want to take that with a grain of salt.

The deal: The dinner will be on October 18, 2007 from 6:30 to 9:30pm at The Lodge at Sonoma. The cost is $50, $70 with wine pairings. Call 707.282.1531 for reservations.

Feeling salty? Whole Foods now offers an array of gourmet salts, including Hawaiian, Fleur de Sel (a fancy French sea salt), smoked salts and a variety of other tasty seasonings in the cheese department. Check out wacky salts like Oregon Pinot, pomegranate and mint at LordsofSalt.com. Cool artisan salts are available at Saltworks. Want more history on salt? Check out Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.