Harvesting isn't an unusual sight on Long Island's fertile North Fork, unless you happen upon Scott Bollman at work.
Bollman scoops water from the ocean for his business, the North Fork Sea Salt Co., a line of artisanal salts, that he runs with his wife, Kassata.
It was her idea -- sort of.
In 2012, Kassata, his fiancee at the time, was a television reporter in Albany. Her family is from Baiting Hollow and she moved back to Long Island to be with Bollman. She was also researching various crafts-related careers, such as candlemaking. One day Bollman, a Southold resident and a chef by trade, came across a video online of an old fisherman undertaking the saltmaking process and thought it looked easy enough.
"So I copied and pasted it [the link] to an email with the title 'We can do this,' " he said.
They launched the business in October 2012.
An almanac is an important farming tool. Bollman, 36, said the salt harvesting process starts well before collection day with a close eye on the weather.
"You want to harvest from still waters," he said. "You don't want heavy winds, rain, anything that would stir up the water quality."
After a location is selected, Bollman puts on his waders, heads out into the ocean and fills several 5-gallon buckets with water. He usually gets about 100 gallons for the process, sometimes all in one day and other times 50 gallons a day a couple of days apart. He uses a water source within a 10-mile radius of the company's Cutchogue warehouse.
"It's straightforward, when you think about it," Bollman said. "That's the beauty of it; it's not a really extravagant process, it's very straight to the point. It's water, then heat, then salt."
There is some trial and error involved. For example, if the brine gets too dry before it is placed on the tray, the final product can be bitter. There was a great deal of experimentation before the business took its first orders one year ago.
While Bollman said that, as with any business, the bottom line is profit, being part of the North Fork's sustainable ways is exciting. He likes that salt harvesting is now part of a North Fork where the wine movement has burgeoned and agritours have tourists shucking oysters for fun.
"I don't think salt is going to blow up to that level [of wine]," said Bollman, who works the kitchen at The Cheese Emporium & Cafe by Bruce & Son, a Greenport eatery he co-owns with his father. "But it's part of the big picture."
STEP 1: Water is filtered into large drums, where it is allowed to settle for two days to remove any residual silt.
STEP 2: The evaporation process begins. This takes two days and transforms the water into concentrated brine. The water is heated -- but not boiled -- in 15-gallon cooking vessels. "At this point it's not salt, it's still liquid, but very concentrated," Bollman said. The brine is filtered into a salt tray, "and that's where the magic happens."
STEP 3: As the salt brine begins to dry on the pan over several hours, crystals start to form on the brine's surface. As those crystals are gathered, more sink to the bottom. Bollman then uses a slotted spoon and gently rakes the bottom for more crystals.
GET THE SALT
North Fork Sea Salt Co.; northforkseasaltco.com; 631-209-SALT; firstname.lastname@example.org