A mile in the shoes of a salt producer
Setting up a sea salt business in a small coastal town has given Alice Laing’s life plenty of flavour.
According to Alice Laing, the best time on the Tasmanian East Coast is sunrise. It’s worth waking up early to soak it up, especially if you can start the day with yoga overlooking the Freycinet Peninsula as she can from the deck of her home in Swansea. It’s a treasured moment of peace for Alice, who runs Tasman Sea Salt with her husband Chris Manson. It’s a seven-day-a-week operation, managed around family life with three kids and a dog. “But when you’re busy in one of the most beautiful offices in the world, it’s not too bad,” she says.
Alice was born in Scotland and the foodie pair met in England. It was on a trip to Tassie that seeded the idea of the business. They noticed Chris’ family was shipping salt from the UK while living beside a beautiful, pristine ocean. “I’d never really seen anything like it,” says Alice. “We thought, ‘surely the sea here is going to make a better salt?’ It was the pristine quality of Tasmania that inspired us.”
They built their business plan in London then moved to Tasmania in 2013 with no confirmed plans on an “exciting adventure” and a busy, steep learning curve ahead of them. They haven’t really stopped since. The couple have developed an innovative process using solar and thermal energy.
Table salt is generally mined and highly processed, leaving it stripped of everything except the sodium chloride. Sea salt is often the result of evaporation by the sun on salt flats but Tasman Sea Salt took inspiration from England for indoor pan drying due to the wet local climate.
At their saltworks in Little Swanport, they suck water from the ocean, evaporate the water into a concentrated brine, heat it gently so it crystallises into flakes in large pans (which takes a week in itself), then dry it.
“The water here is so clean that we don’t have to do anything to the salt, so it contains all of the natural minerals and nutrients,” says Alice. “It also has a real depth of flavour. Ours has this wonderful taste of the ocean.”
Tasman Sea Salt is now stocked Australia-wide in IGA, Harris Farm and gourmet food shops. The company has grown to a small team and doubled its output in a few years. Recently the couple started a salt sommelier experience which includes a tour of the saltworks, a workshop trying traditional cooking processes relying on salt like fermenting and preserving, and pairing their different salts with food. They collaborated with the new neighbouring vineyard Mayfield Estate to host the tasting sessions.
It’s an interesting step for a product that has such a rich history, from preserving food before refrigeration, to shaping fortunes and civilisations. When the pair initially set up shop on the East Coast, they were unsure of the reception they would get but the community has been “amazingly supportive”. “Tasmanians in general are supportive of new ventures. Even if you’ve got an idea that seems a bit crazy,” says Alice. “That’s what’s made it feel like home for us.”