Behind the Scenes at Amagansett Sea Salt Co.

[Photographs: Carey Jones]

"I love these salts because they taste like the Northeast," Daniel Humm, executive chef of Eleven Madison Park, says of Amagansett Sea Salt Co. out on Long Island, just east of East Hampton. "I use them as a finishing salt on vegetables, cut meat surfaces—everything."

Quite an endorsement for this small-production salt farm, owned and staffed by Steven and Natalie Judelson. The couple were longtime salt obsessives and collectors before they started trying to create their own, about ten years ago; in 2009, they launched a professional operation out in the Hamptons.

"I'm trying to bring old-world French and Spanish salt-making practices back to the States," Steven told us—meaning, their methods are about as low-tech as it gets. He hauls water bucket by bucket out of the Atlantic Ocean before he filters it, lets it solar-evaporate in trays he designed for the purpose, and mills it in a small contraption he built himself.

After 7 to 10 days, the pure seawater begins to form crystals (in the summer; the process takes considerably more time in cooler months), leaving only large, clumped-together clusters behind in those trays. From there, the salt is dried further, any remaining bits of debris are painstakingly picked out by hand, and the resulting crystals are put through a mill to grind the salt down to size. "What I'm actually trying to do is break the crystals," he says, "rather than crush them. They'll break along their natural lines that way."

The finished product

Amagansett Sea Salt puts out a number of blends, including the lemon zest "Montauk" and the "East Hampton" Herbs de Provence. But chef Humm prefers the unadulterated pure sea salt, for its crunch and mild oceanic flavor.

A few weeks back, as part of Mercedez-Benz's "On the Road" program, chef Humm took us out to Amagansett to check out the operation; he then used their salts in the preparation of a special tasting menu at the Mercedes-sponsored James Beard Foundation's summer tasting party, Chefs & Champagne. We drove out to the Judelsons' salt farm to take a look at how it's all made. Come check out the slideshow for a look into how small-batch sea salt is prepared »