Did you know there are 161 kinds of salt? That salt used to be used as currency amongst the ancient Romans? That there are more than 14,000 uses for salt? And that the Dead Sea has a count of 26% super-saturated salt as opposed to a normal count of around 3%?
No? Well, you need to get yourself along to a Salt and Wine-matching dinner with Craig Cormack and Fleur du Cap wines then. I was invited to a preview lunch last week with fellow journalists, Fleur du Cap winemaker Pieter Badenhorst and Chef Craig, and found out more about salt than I ever knew I needed to know.
This is a series of dinners held on the last Thursday of every month between now and Christmas. Craig is executive chef of Sofia’s at Morgenster and you can do a similar dinner there as well, but this one is set in the dramatically lovely setting of the Bergkelder – the cellar inside the mountain. Surrounded by fabulous old carved wine barrels and lit by atmospheric wall lights, it’s a really cool place to have a meal.
Craig’s obsession with salt has been growing over the past four years, following a presentation he made for a cooking show. Fascinated by its history and importance in human life and development, he began experimenting with different types from around the world. On the table in front of us was an array of 6 different salts – a very eggy-smelling Pakistani Volcanic salt, our local Khoisan salt, a Blue Persian salt, a Black Volcanic salt from Hawaii, an Australian Murray River Pink Salt and a Red Alea Salt, also from Hawaii. Before the tasting, I knew of two kinds of salt – Maldon and Ceres – and it was amazing to not only see the different colours, but taste the very distinctively different tastes as well.
The menu has been designed by Craig with both his salts and Pieter’s wines in mind. If you haven’t come across his cooking at either Overture or Sofia’s, then you’re in for a treat – light, modern, intelligent food sourced from very fresh, local ingredients (the fish was practically flapping on the plate). Nothing was overpowered by salt and it was definitely the flavours of the food itself (along with the wine) which stood out. And if you’re concerned about your blood pressure, the artisanal salts which Craig uses are far, far better for you than the uber-refined, chemically-enhanced versions on your average supermarket shelf. We had delicious Cured Salmon Trout followed by Whole Baked Red Snapper with Oryx Pan salt then back to salmon for the mains before finishing with a divine Chocolate Tart with Geurande Sel Gris and Lemongrass Ice Cream.
Fleur du Cap is wrongly regarded as ‘mainstream’ by many, simply because it has a strong High Street presence. But we were tasting the Unfiltered Collection, which is made in much smaller quantities and arriving at the table boasting handfuls of awards and accolades. My favourite was the wonderful four-way white blend which won Best Wooded White Blend at this year’s Old Mutual Trophy Show and, of course, the utterly sublime NLH 2010 which surely must be up for its 5th Platter Five Star in a row this year.
I’ve used this phrase before but ‘an enthusiast is appealing and a fanatic is irresistible.’ Craig is definitely border-line fanatical about his salts – he even gets paid in some kind of saline ‘dop system’ with the Khoisan salt people giving him 12kgs a month in exchange for advice and promotion – but his food is spot-on, his use of salt is never obtrusive and his information is riveting. Add in some great wines and you’ve got a wonderful recipe for a different and unusual evening out.
The 4-course Fleur du Cap Unfiltered Wine and Salt pairing dinners costs R400 per person including the tasting, food and wines and begin with canapés at 19h00. The next diner will be held on Thursday 29th September and booking is essential as seats are limited. Call Nadia Ferreira at Die Bergkelder on Tel: 021-809 8025 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.