Categories: Artisan Products
Bob and Lora La Mar celebrate a unique relationship with the ocean waters off our Pacific coast. The birth of their business, Mendocino Sea Salt and Seasoning Company, is an inspirational story of reinvention; a testament to resourcefulness and forward thinking that has led them in a new direction.
Four years ago, life took an unexpected turn for the La Mars who then owned and operated a successful sport fishing business in Mendocino, California. When the Marine Life Protection Agency unexpectedly closed that coastline to all fishing in 2008, Bob & Lora were left with their 22 foot Farallon fishing boat, the Fair Chase, and no way to make a living.
Their business future uncertain in the isolated coastal community of Gualala where they lived, the La Mars searched for an answer to their income dilemma. It came during a chance visit to the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market, where Lora stumbled upon a vendor selling seasonings.
For twenty-five years, she had been making her own recipe of “seasoning sand”, an all-purpose blend of sea-salt and ground herbs she gave away as Christmas gifts to friends and family. Recipients had consistently encouraged her to market the blend at retail–but that day, standing in the Ferry Building Market, an epiphany hit her.
What if, instead of fish, they could use their boat to harvest salt from the sea and create their own unique seasoning blends? No one else was doing it–why not them?
Her husband Bob, a former Alaskan bush pilot and guide who loves to dive, embraced the challenge and immediately set to work. It took six months of careful research and experimentation to perfect a technique for harvesting sea water and crafting artisan salts they could sell. “Sometimes it’s good that you don’t know that you don’t know,” Lora laughs looking in hindsight on those weeks of trial and error.
In May of 2009, Mendocino Sea Salt and Seasoning Company began production. In the three years since its launch, the company’s line of four artisan salts has made a big splash at North Coast farmers’ markets among discerning consumers and chefs who appreciate quality.
With his cowboy hat, broad smile, and rugged good-looks, Bob La Mar has been called the “Marlboro Man” of sea salt. His breadth of knowledge about his products is impressive, as is his commitment to the process of making them. Back on shore, Lora handles the numbers and marketing side of their business, freeing her husband to do what he does best: make salt.
Aboard the Fair Chase, Bob travels three miles off the coast of Mendocino in search of pristine, mineral-rich water brought up from deep undersea canyons by the strong currents of the Continental Shelf. He collects 300 gallons of sea water at a time, bringing it back to shore where it is off-loaded to a large mobile storage tank. He repeats this collection process thirteen times a day.
The sea water is then transported to the “salt barn” on their property where it is simmered in open kettles and distilled into brine. Next the brine is “raked”; a process which drains away sediments. The remaining raw salt is gently layered in open evaporating pans to dry. Unlike traditional table salts, La Mar’s artisan pyramid-shaped crystals are hollow with a pure, clean, concentrated flavor and no bitter after-taste.
“With our sea-salt, less truly is more,” Lora shares with me. “You need just a pinch to season your food, which means reduced sodium but more flavor.”
In addition to their hand-crafted Sea Salt, delicate flakes packed with a healthy mineral punch of magnesium chloride, potassium, and selenium, the La Mars produce three other unique artisan seasonings:
Sea Smoke, an intensely flavored salt achieved by smoking the crystals for five days; three in sweet alder, one in maple, and one in seaweed to produce a finished taste that’s a cross between bacon and smoked salmon. Used sparingly, it pairs well blended with olive oil or butter to season meats, or in any dish enhanced by a smoke flavor.
Nori combines hand-harvested local wild seaweed gathered at low-tide off the rocks near the coastal town of Elk, with their light flake sea salt. The nori is sun-dried, flaked, and blended with organic sesame seeds to create a unique seasoning with a grassy, ocean flavor. It compliments sliced tomatoes and a host of other foods.
Last, but not least, is Lora’s original Seasoning Sand–the blend of sea salt, brown sugar, and herbs that started it all. This versatile all-purpose mix works as a flavorful seasoning on meat and veggies, or the perfect addition sprinkled on popcorn.
Coming soon–Nigari, or “Mother Nature’s Liquid”– a twice distilled elixir rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium said to have many health benefits including strengthening the immune system and promoting beautiful skin.
Currently, patrons can buy the La Mar’s artisan seasoning salts at their farmers’ market booths in Mendocino (every Friday from 12:00-2:00PM), Gualala (every Saturday from 9:30AM-12:30PM), and Marin Civic Center (every other Sunday from 8:00AM-1:00PM).
For more information, visit their website at: www.MendoSeasoning.com.
As their motto,“Cum Grano Salis,” reminds us–life & food are better taken with a grain of salt. In this case, salt rubbed in the wound of one lost business opportunity, became the answered prayer for starting another successful venture.