The cashier at Jacobsen Salt Company’s gift shop encourages me to sample the different salt varieties with my hands. Salt is a naturally sterile antibacterial, so I get to dip my grubby little fingers right into the jar and pinch some. It’s one of the perks of visiting the Jacobsen salt works near Tillamook, Oregon. About an hour and a half from Portland proper, the place is located on the property where Ben Jacobsen makes his hand-harvested salts. I first go for a sample of the most popular item in the store, Jacobsen’s black garlic salt. “That’s the one everybody’s getting,” the cashier told me. “It’s the favorite.” Jacobsen takes their standard salt and blends it with garlic that’s fermented on site. It’s so good, you can eat it straight. I do just that, going for seconds.
The black garlic addition isn’t the only reason the seasoning is delicious. It helps that the plain salt is excellent on its own. After living in Denmark and Norway for a few years, Jacobsen returned to the United States frustrated by the country’s lack of high-end salt options. After getting burnt out by his marketing job, he decided to take matters into his own hands and start an artisanal salt company. Jacobsen drove up and down the Oregon coast tasting the water along the way and hunting for the best merroir (terroir, but its oceanic sister). He decided on Netarts Bay, and in 2011 purchased an old oyster farm from a woman who ran it for more than a decade. The location was perfect for the new Jacobsen Salt Company.
“Tens of millions of oysters are farmed here in Netarts Bay,” Jacobsen tells me. “Oysters, being bivalve shellfish, filter up to 20 gallons of water per day. So you’re getting this perfect combination of high salinity with constantly new sourced water that’s not stagnant, that’s filtered by these oysters. We end up with this really clean source of ocean water.” The oyster farm’s owner left behind a PVC pipe that ran from the bay to a warehouse filled with two 3,700 gallon tanks to raise oyster larvae inside. Now, Jacobsen uses the pipe and the tanks to make his salt. “We couldn’t have found a facility more well-suited,” he says.
The company makes a bountiful range of goods for pantry stocking. There are basics like coarse grinding salt and pure salt flakes, as well as the infusions like pinot noir, ghost chili, lemon zest to name a few. “My favorite salt to use right now is our black pepper salt,” Jacobsen says. “It’s like salt and pepper, you can’t get more simple than that. It’s just delicious.” They do other food items, too, like dessert. Jacobsen made a Nordic-inspired black licorice, and partnered with Williams Sonoma to make salted caramels that I stuffed my pockets with greedily.
I ask Jacobsen how he uses the black garlic salt, my favorite of the lineup, at home. “My go-to breakfast is black garlic salt on soft scrambled eggs with caramelized shallots,” Jacobsen tells me. Chefs in Portland and elsewhere are on the same page. “The Garlic Salt enhances brunch dishes with baked eggs and is also awesome on grain bowls or sprinkled over fried eggs,” says Sam Smith, the executive chef at Tusk. “A great suggestion for home cooks is scrambled eggs with smoked trout, allspice, urfa pepper, and sour cream, topped with garlic salt.” Over in New York, chef and restaurateur April Bloomfield sprinkles the stuff over a wild mushroom omelet, or even just the wild mushrooms alone. “It brings out rich earthy flavors and adds a bit of a kick, all in just one ingredient,” Bloomfield says. “I love the sweet notes that you get from the caramelized garlic. It adds depth and brings out richer flavors.”
The salt has won over chefs who had lost faith in garlic salt, like Seamus Mullen, chef and owner of Tertulia and El Colmado in New York. “I don’t regularly use garlic salt because it feels like a poor replacement for fresh garlic,” Mullen says. “However, Jacobsen’s black garlic salt is a totally different animal, not like fresh garlic at all; the caramelization of the garlic before they infuse it gives it a really wonderful nutty flavor you can’t get elsewhere.” Food & Wine Senior Test Kitchen Editor Laura Rege agrees. “Jacobsen’s black garlic salt is everything that regular garlic salt was meant to be. It adds earthy and sweet flavors to a dish without a pungent bite,” she says. “Unlike most grocery store garlic salts, the flavors are pure and natural. The bottom line: I don’t have regular garlic salt in my pantry.”
I leave the gift shop with a shopping bag full of salt. I’m hungry, and even though I’m now craving oysters I might just end up eating straight salt on my way back to Portland.