Like so many other artisans that came before them and will come after them, Steven and Natalie Judelson were worn down from the grind of high-pressure city jobs, and decided to take that frustration and go what some people refer to as ‘crunchy.’ However, their version of crunchy is a little less green and a lot more blue – as in the cool blue water of the Atlantic Ocean, which they use to harvest their Amagansett Sea Salt.
The pair had taken up salt making as a hobby over the years, but then in 2011, decided to take a crack at turning it into a business. Both Natalie and Steven were lawyers, until Natalie says “there was really a moment where we just decided, being so miserable and the drudgery of day-to-day work and legal world and real estate — the market had crashed, and it was all about going back to basics.”
And by basic, the couple got just about as basic as you can get.
Today, Steven, with 5-gallon buckets in hand, will wade into the ocean waters of Amagansett – which, being at the tip of Long Island, are constantly circulated and churned – to collect water (it takes about 10 gallons of water to yield 1 pound of salt) that they’ll eventually evaporate. The evaporation process, though, is a little more complex than the harvesting process. Using a nuanced and scientific approach, the pair harnesses the power of the sun and natural breeze to extract high-quality sea salt from the Atlantic waters. All in all, it’s not as easy as one would think.
“There seems to be a trend of ‘Oh, sea salt I can do that,’” Natalie jokes. “People boil down a pot of sea water, and it’s not the same thing as what we do. It’s very scientific, very hands-on, very natural – we’ve gone about it in a very precise way, so getting the feedback from the chefs who get it and say ‘Yes’ does make a difference.’”
And much like terroir lends particular characteristics to fruit and vegetables of a certain location, Natalie says that Amagansett waters have a specific “merroir” that distinguishes their product from other sea salts.
“You’re at the very tip of Long Island and the ocean that’s continuously turning and moving. It tastes like the Atlantic and had this very pure ocean flavor.”
Their product has won rave reviews from many, including chefs from some of the most renowned restaurants in New York City and elsewhere. The Judelsons work directly with chefs to develop specific salts and flavors, and it’s that kind of interaction that has Steven and Natalie inspired and motivated.
“Being in the food movement has been just so beautiful and really fun,” Natalie says. “It’s just been really great to work with different chefs and have them give us feedback, and knowing that we’re doing something different. It’s a lot of physical work, which is not something either of us is really used to, but just getting involved in something that’s enjoyed by so many people is amazing.”
Because they depend largely on nature for their evaporating process, they’re at the mercy of the sun, wind, weather and other factors when it comes to how long it actually takes to make the salt.
“The actual worst times of the year for us are late fall and very early spring, when the days are very short and wet and damp,” Natalie says. “The early winter when it’s very cold, and things freeze quickly, that’s a good time for us. Summer is the height – if it’s a stretch of good weather in July, we can produce sea salt in 4-5 days. In January or December, it can take 5-6 weeks.”
While that may seem crazy to businessmen or other artisans who are all about control and precision, it’s this natural process that makes Steven and Natalie’s product so special.
“We don’t add anything to the process. If it’s summer salt, it evaporates quickly and the salt has this very white, flaky, crisp flavor. In the winter, it’s a little more dense, but that pairs itself well with winter foods.”
With more Americans expanding their culinary knowledge base and seeking out high-quality products, Amangansett Sea Salt has continued to grow as a business.
“Now when we interact with customers, they know there’s sel gris, and that sea salt from England tastes different than sea salt from Spain. I think there’s a big movement of people who want to know where their food comes from, how things are made, and how things taste. Whether it’s an organic chicken or very high-end chocolate or your sea salt, there’s this beginning of an understanding that it’s important to spend time and effort seeking out a great ingredient.”