SOMEWHERE ON CAPE ANN — The location of the harvest is a secret because ... well, because the Salt Ladies want to keep it that way. And it does not do to cross the Salt Ladies.
The unseasonably balmy 40-degree temperatures of Martin Luther King Jr. Day have drawn Alison Darnell and Heather Ahearn — along with their 28 large plastic buckets — to this small public beach that, for reasons of competitive advantage, shall remain nameless.
Even on holidays, the salt show must go on.
Waterproofed from their feet up and double-gloved, the two women spend the next hour lugging the empty buckets into the sea and returning to terra firma with 5 gallons of pristine Cape Ann seawater in each — the very nectar that begins the process to produce mounds of pure gourmet sea salt for discerning gourmands and seat-of-the-pants cooks alike.
Ahearn and Darnell are founders, senior executives, cooks and chief seawater Sherpas for Atlantic Saltworks, a fledgling North Shore-based company that produces gourmet sea salt for sale on the company’s website and, up to this point, at a limited number of retail locations, such as The Cave in Gloucester.
They started the company in August. Basically, at least for now, it is run out of their respective homes — Salem for Ahearn and Wakefield for Darnell.
When it’s time to cook the salt from the seawater, operations shift to the shared commercial kitchen the company leases in Amesbury, where the seawater is boiled to produce the briny flake finishing sea salt that is the rage in the cooking world. The yield is about 3 ounces per gallon of water.
“It just tastes better,” Darnell said. “We don’t use anti-caking agents like a big company might use, and we don’t take anything from the salt, and we don’t add anything to it.”