Lubec couple produce sea salt line

Maine Sea Salt produces several flavored salts including lemon and pepper, herbs, garlic, apple and hickory wood smoked. PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER

It was sometime in 1998 and Sharon and Steve Cook were looking for a Maine product they could make together.

Steve’s family owned Cook’s Lobster Pound on Bailey Island in Casco Bay. Steve worked in the family business and then his father retired.

So Steve and Sharon thought of starting their own enterprise. First they considered making soap or jams, but decided those market were already saturated.

Steve then saw sea salt on a shelf in a health food store and Maine Sea Salt was born.

The product couldn’t be more “Maine.”

The Cooks harvest two, 81,000-gallon tanker trucks of water from the ocean — Buck’s Harbor in Machiasport — every 10 days in season.

The Cooks pump 81,000-gallon tanker trucks of sea water every 10 days in season from Buck’s Harbor in Machiasport. PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER

The Cooks pump 81,000-gallon tanker trucks of sea water every 10 days in season from Buck’s Harbor in Machiasport.

They then have it trucked it to their 10 greenhouses on Church Lane in Marshfield.

The Cooks first dried the salt in small pup tents and eventually worked their way up to hoop houses, or greenhouses.

They now have 10 hoop houses, each 200 feet long and 15 feet wide. Each offers 24,000 square feet of water surface.

The water is pumped into shallow pools in the greenhouses, where the sediment and silt settle to the bottom.

Mother Nature carries out the evaporation process as the salt is moved from one hoop house to another, each time increasing in salinity.

The salt-making season is limited to April through to October, when there is enough sun and heat to dry the salt.

On the warmest days the temperature in the hoop houses reaches 140 degrees.

“Harvesting is hard work,” said Steve, who usually harvests at sunrise on the hottest days.

The process takes about three weeks. The result is 30,000 pounds of salt each year. One gallon of seawater yields 4 ounces of salt.

Despite its stark white color, the salt is not bleached or washed during the process or prior to packaging.

That ensures that trace minerals found in natural salt, and not found in processed salt, are retained in the crystals.

When salt is processed it is heated, boiled, loaded with anti-caking agents, and all of the trace minerals are removed, the Cooks said.

DSC_9680They say there are 90 different trace minerals in sea water, all found in the same quantities in the human body.

The Cooks’ preparations are decidedly not high-tech.

After naturally drying the salt in the hoop houses, they grind it in a Cuisinart.

They spread the ground salt between towels to absorb the remaining moisture released by the grinding of large salt crystals.

Sharon and Steve have a clear division of responsibilities.

“I’m the boss,” said Steve. “I hate bosses.”

“Except for me,” said Sharon. “I’m the hub of the wheel.”

Maine Sea Salt produces several flavored salts, such as lemon and pepper, herbs, garlic, apple and hickory wood smoked.

They sell their product in a limited number of supermarkets — Hannaford in Ellsworth, Bar Harbor and Machias.

The salt is mostly found in health specialty food shops in Maine and New England.

Cook said they make a modest living and hopefully can save enough to take them through the winter.

“Eighty percent of the business goes to distributors and wholesalers,” he said.

Stuff of LifeCheck out: Maine Sea Salt’s processing facility in the Washington County town of Marshfield east of Machias.Season: Steve and Sharon Cook open their small retail shop Memorial Day weekend, May 24-26. Hours are: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.Free tours: The Cooks offer 15-minute tours of their operation.

Where: 11 Church Lane, Marshfield.

Contact: 255-3310, www.maineseasalt.com

Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]