Worth His Salt: Vancouver Island Salt Company
Voltaire said that business is the salt of life, but what if salt is life’s business? Here I talk to Andrew Shepherd, head of the Vancouver Island Salt Company, a company located in Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island that handcrafts over 20 different salts and distributes them to the tables of people like me and thee. Here I learn about the simple infusion process, how to cook with this incredible salt and how the blue cheese infusion can change my life, which I don’t doubt at all!
Good question! I’m actually thinking about dropping the “Artisan Salts” phrase. Recently I saw a bottled water truck boasting of it’s “Artisan Water”, so I’m thinking the term “Artisan” is being a touch over used. For me “Artisan Salts” are hand crafted/harvested salts that are produced as a form of culinary art.
All different flavours?
It’s probably a little over the top, but I think we have over 20 different salts on offer. I guess this is where the salt becomes a true medium for culinary art. Salt is a remarkable thing in that it can absorb flavour and color from pretty much anything it comes into contact with. I get bored easily so the infusions help keep me motivated. Also keeps my market tables fresh and interesting for market regulars.
So what would I choose?
Do you like blue cheese? If you do, the blue cheese infusion will change your life. If you don’t like blue cheese, our jerk infusion (flavoured with Vancouver Chef, Bounty’s authentic Jerk Sauce) is awesome. If you don’t like jerk either, you’re boring and need to change the way you eat! Just kidding! We have salts for all tastes, but these are my most unique infusions.
Can we know the infusion process, or is it a secret?
Super simple, we take wet, un-finished salt early in the harvesting process blend in the flavouring agents (blue cheese, jerk sauce, garlic, paprika, etc) and then slowly dry it allowing the bond to take place.
I like your cooking suggestions. If this was my first artisan salt experience, what would you suggest I purchase and what should I go on to cook?
I always suggest that people have a crack at cooking with my straight up local Canadian Sea Salt first, it’s actually quite different cooking with it compared to the table salt so many of us were brought up with. A great application to test out the difference is in bread making, my salt will eliminate that salt first taste that a lot of home bakers end up with. But fair warning you will need to change up your recipes a bit because my salt is pretty strong.
What`s your personal favourite and what do you do with it?
Blue Cheese Infused. I like to stick my fingers in it and then lick them, I also like to sprinkle it on popcorn.
How did you end up in the salt business?
I made some salt to show that it could be done, gave some away, people freaked out, four months later I’m self-employed. Opportunity knocked, and I was home.
Having said that, I am a chef by trade, and I had spent the previous two years working for a small company developing and wholesaling gourmet foods, so the salt game was right up my alley.
Where can we go to buy some of this deliciousness?
**Attention valued clients, I can’t actually list you all in this interview**
All the Country Grocer and Fairway Markets on the Island, Cook Culture, Niagara Grocery, all the Red Barns, Ingredients, Community Farm Store, Edible Island, Edible Canada, Marche St George Capilano Trading Post. So basically all over BC, and now we are branching into Alberta, and Ontario.
We are just finishing up a much needed expansion which should allow us to continue to spread our salty goodness throughout the rest of Canada. Whats really exciting is that our new production line is being converted to run on waste veg oil, so not only are we growing the biz, but we are greening up the salt co to pretty much unheard of ‘greenliness’.***
Basically I’m really proud of what myself and my little company have created in terms of having started the Canadain Sea Salt industry. So now I need to make sure that as copy cats jump into the salt game (which is already happening) we maintain a leadership role in the industry and that we keep the Canadian Sea Salt industry focused on high quality standards and sustainability both fiscally and environmentally.
*** I was thrilled to get a recent update to say that the conversion went well and the VISC is now producing salt with the assistance of reusable energy!!
Anything else we should know about VISC?
It’s not lost on VISC, that our success is and has been directly dependent on local support. While we are focusing on spreading out over our great country, the back bone of our biz is to supply local people with their local salt. And we are very thankful for every word of encouragement and every bit of support we have received here in BC and specifically on this great rock we call Vancouver island.