Stoke-on-Trent based chefs Ant Snape and Jon Riviere have known each for seven years, since they met while working at Chester Racecourse.
The friends are soon to open what was formerly Zest on Hanley’s Piccadilly as a casual dining bistro, but their first venture together was Trotting Potter Salts. The unusual name stems from the fact that Ant is originally from Bolton, where football club Bolton Wanderers are referred to locally as ‘the Trotters’, while Jon is a Stoke-on-Trent native.
Jon had been experimenting with flavoured and blended salts for a number of years before meeting Ant. When he mentioned it they found it was a shared hobby – Ant had made similar things to gift to family members.
Since starting Trotting Potter, they’ve found that chefs are sold on the benefits and are receiving great feedback from their customers, while the general public are yet to be fully convinced.
“I think it’s been hammered into us that salt is salt and it’s bad for you,” Ant speculates. “But like anything, it’s good for you in moderation. But as our generation has grown up, salt is what you put on your chips and that’s that.”
“I think it comes down to the food culture,” adds Jon. “For example, in the places where these salts are produced, they’re used locally. If you go to Cyprus everyone will be using the local Cypriot pyramid salt and embracing it, whereas over here the food culture is different.”
Now more of us are starting to enjoy cooking (and preserving) more seriously at home, we are learning and starting to appreciate salt’s uses and its role as a flavouring in its own right.
“We’re not claiming that our salts will make you healthy, but it’s all about making little changes,” says Jon. “If you can get a salt that is less refined, and has got a slightly different flavour, and you sprinkle it on your chicken after you’ve cooked it, you’re going to taste it more and use less.”
Ant and Jon’s extensive range of salts can be split into three categories: single origin salts, flavoured salts, and blended salts.
“Single origin salts, like the Himalayan salt, mined in Pakistan, come from one location,” explains Jon. “We’ve got some that are Hawaiian, one from Peru – that’s a single origin which can be traced back to a single source. The single origin salts each have slightly different colours, tastes and chemical make-ups.”
Black Lava is a Hawaiian sea salt, which is coated with activated charcoal – normally coconut charcoal – to give its characteristic colour. Jon recommends sprinkling it over butter and eating with bread to fully appreciate the flavours.
Red Alaea is also from Hawaii, from the same source as Black Lava, but this fine-grained version is mixed with a red clay that is local to the island, which means you’re getting different minerals as well as the stunning colour.
Persian Blue salt from Iran is speckled with beautiful blue crystals formed when it was compressed by surrounding rocks millions of years ago. Taste-wise, it is Trotting Potter’s least salty salt. Ant recommends it for drinks and cocktails: “If you’re having tequila, try this instead of harsh, bitter table salt.”
The relative saltiness of the various origins is down to their sodium content. The Persian Blue contains less sodium than, say, Atlantic sea salt from Portugal which is their saltiest tasting salt due to its high sodium content.
Inca Sun comes from Peru, near Machu Picchu, and is so named because it is reputedly still processed the same way it would have been by the ancient civilisation. A salt water stream that springs from the mountains is dammed into a series of pools where it dries it out in the sun and is later harvested.
Probably the most popular and widely recognised salt Jon and Ant stock is Himalayan salt. The majority of it is actually white, with deep red and pink veins giving the ground rock salt its recognisable pink hue, but it’s one both chefs keep in their cupboards for everyday use.
Jon and Ant also make their own flavoured salts, including a deep red Merlot salt, infused with red wine and then dehydrated. “It doesn’t really lose its colour, so I like putting it on bread rolls before baking, on roast potatoes or brushed onto the pastry of a beef Wellington,” says Jon.
A pure liquorice compound is used to make their distinctive liquorice flavoured salt, which is great for making salted caramels, sprinkled over popcorn, and with chocolate desserts. Other flavoured salts in the range include raspberry and snowy coconut, perfect with rum cocktails.
The third category, blended salts, feature more added ingredients and include Trotting Potter’s pastis salt, which recently received national recognition from the Guild of Fine Food in the form of a two star Great Taste Award. Following the award announcement, with judges describing it as ‘a masterful blend of spices’, they have had a wave of interest from farm shops and delis wishing to stock their products.
“Our pastis salt is a blend of fennel seed, star anise and citrus zest, among other things, and it’s one of the first salts we actually blended,” Jon tells Sauce. “It works especially well with white fish and shellfish. Because of the crystal size I use the Portuguese sea salt for gravadlax, but if you’re making a ceviche the pastis salt will go very well as the cure.”