If you told Ben Jacobsen in 2009 he’d own a salt company, have an artisanal salt line sold at Williams Sonoma and be working with top chefs like April Bloomfield, Andrew Zimmern, and Seamus Mullen, he wouldn't have believed you. In fact, he was consumed with trying to keep his Internet startup company afloat. But after losing all his savings, he decided to do a 180-degree turn and try something new: hand-harvesting sea salt.
What made you start harvesting salt? Was there a particular turning point for you that made you think, “Well, I think I’ll go to the Oregon Coast and start a salt business?”
I discovered “good” salt when I was living in Scandinavia. When I moved back home to Oregon, I went to grocery stores, specialty shops, and more, looking for good salt. I was pretty shocked to see that not only wasn’t good salt widely available, there wasn’t even an option for good salt made in the US. We’re in Oregon, arguably one of the cleanest coastlines in the US, and nothing was being done and I wondered to myself why that was the case and if it was even possible to make good salt here. Why hadn’t it been done before?
What’s the process of harvesting salt? How has the process changed since you began in 2011 to what it is now?
Our process is relatively straightforward but full of nuance that ultimately makes our salt what it is today. We filter seawater that has already been pre-filtered by tens of millions of oysters and clams in the bay. After we filter the seawater, we boil it to remove the calcium and magnesium that would otherwise give our salt a very bitter taste. We then move the brine to shallow, stainless steel evaporation pans where salt crystals form slowly on the surface of the water, then fall to the bottom of the pan. We then harvest those salt crystals, let them drain and then dry. The whole process takes about two weeks from seawater to dry flake of salt.
A lot of big-name chefs are fans of your salt. Can you a name a few that use your salt regularly and some that have been huge supporters from the beginning?
We’re fortunate to have chefs that have food carts, to chefs that have earned a name for themselves in Michelin-starred restaurants. Every chef that we work with is incredibly important to us. We’re also lucky to have worked for many years with Chris Cosentino, April Bloomfield, Gabriel Rucker, Sarah Schafer, Joshua McFadden, Phil Krajeck, and so many more great folks.
What sets Jacobsen Salt apart from other salts? Where can people buy them?
We’re the first to harvest salt in the Pacific Northwest since Lewis & Clark. If you think about the historical significance of salt, that’s a remarkable statement. Our salt is clean and briny with no bitter aftertaste. It’s delicate, light and flaky, and quickly dissipates on your palate. People can buy our salt on our website, and at Williams Sonoma stores nationwide, and many other great specialty shops and grocery stores.
Talk us through your products. You have flakey salt, but what’s it used for? What types of infused salt do you have and what can they be used for?
Our pure flake finishing salt is great for finishing any dish. It provides a nice burst of salinity adding a textural contrast to food, then quickly washes away. We make a Stumptown Coffee Salt, Grochau Cellars Pinot Noir Salt, fermented black garlic salt, and one of my personal favorites: black pepper salt. It’s fantastic and great on everything.
Does Jacobsen offer other products besides salt? Any collaboration?
Yes, we make a very polarizing and very addictive salty black licorice, salty caramel (which is far less polarizing!), and salty chocolate caramels. We currently also have bagel chips, granola, line-caught albacore tuna, ice cream, beer, chocolate, almond butter, harissa paste, mustard, and soap! All are available on our website.
What’s the largest challenge you face as a business owner?
Managing people and cash flow for a fast growing business like ours is most challenging. People are our most valuable asset (even before cash!), and we do everything we can to make sure our team is happy, healthy, and having fun in everything we do. We bring people together over food with our products, and as a result community building is very important to us.
What’s next on the radar for Jacobsen Salt Co.?
Whew. We’d like for our salt to be available to people around the country. I believe we make the best salt on the planet. It’s up to us to get our salt to as many people as we can so that we can improve their lives with food and flavor.