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Q&A WITH BEN JACOBSEN

INTRO TO BEN JACOBSEN

With the help of an old friend, Ben Jacobsen moved a 20-foot converted Oyster Trailer into his inner Southeast headquarters – a unique place that is now home to Jacobsen Salt Co. As we sit down in his giant one-of-kind gathering space, I can’t help but think this is where Ben excels. Bringing people to the table.

With no lack of elbow grease, a bit of trial and error, and his instinctive optimism Jacobsen has created a salt empire which has earned admiration from chefs known and unknown, and accolades from culinary giants such as Williams-Sonoma; while humbly gaining the trust of his Portland peers and “many across this great land.”

Q: WHAT IS YOUR ORIGIN STORY?

A: I discovered the meaning of salt for the first time when I was living in Denmark. I then moved to Norway, where a girlfriend bought me package of really good salt. I was a student. And I was a little bit puzzled, “… why are you spending so much on salt? We don’t have a whole lot of money…” I tried it and it tasted unlike anything else I had ever had in my life. It was delicious.

Flashing forward, I moved back to the Pacific Northwest and thought it was interesting how the region had evolved from a culinary standpoint. However one thing that chefs and home cooks were still buying from France or the UK was great salt. I found it strange that nobody was making salt locally and so I went for it.

Q: HOW DID YOUR VISION COME TO LIFE?

A: I quickly discovered it was really easy to make really crappy salt. It was even more difficult to make good salt. I was scratching my head and this lit a fire under my ass – I needed to figure out how to make great salt. Two and half years later I did figure out a process that consistently made amazing salt. To do so, I tested more than twenty-five spots of water along the Oregon and Washington Coast. I made salt with this intent – if a winemaker is going to make wine they’ll make wine with the best possible grapes they can find. If I’m going to make salt, I’m going to make it with the best possible salt water I can find.

Q: WHAT INSPIRES YOU?

A: People. For me it all comes back to the people. I love who I work with on a daily basis. Both employees and chefs alike. And to see the reaction of someone who tries our salt for the first time makes it all worth it. Perhaps that’s a selfish way of approaching it, but again, when you see that reaction and when someone tastes good salt for the first time; for me that is life changing.

Q: WHAT IS YOUR FONDEST FOOD MEMORY?

A: I’ve got a couple. The first that comes to mind, relates back to my mom and to my family. When we were living in Vermont as a kid growing up we would go blueberry picking in the summertime. I remember tasting those blueberries right off the bush. My second thought – I remember when we were living in Burlington, I would ride my bike to the Ben & Jerry’s store to get the factory seconds pints that were only a dollar. My friends and I used to ride our bikes down there get a pint and sit along Lake Champlain eating ice cream in the summertime. That was a lot of fun. Such fond memories.

Q: THE SALT FIRE WATER DINNER SERIES?

A: The Salt Fire Water Dinner Series takes place around our table. The concept is to throw a big dinner party for people whose food we love. We pair one local chef who uses our salt with one national chef who is not from Portland… but who uses our salt. Our most recent event was with Vitaly Paley (Paley’s Place, Imperial, and Portland Penny Diner). He’s won a James Beard Award, he’s won Iron Chef, and he’s a badass. We paired him with Michelin Star Chef April Bloomfield (Spotted Pig, The Breslin, The John Dory Oyster Bar, Salvation Taco, and Tosca Cafe in SF). This duo paired up and cooked in our kitchen. 50 people were in attendance and it was an incredible dinner. Our next event is in April – Nick Balla and Courtney Burns from Bar Tartine in San Francisco, will be paired with Greg and Gabby Denton of Ox.

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOUR PARTNERSHIPS

A: New Seasons was our first customer ever. Williams Sonoma has also been a great support in recent years. Ryan White at New Seasons tasted my salt on a tomato that I’d just picked from my parents garden. He said, “I love it, I want a case for each store. How soon can you get it to me?” That was three and half years ago. To this day I hold customers in Portland close to my heart… because this is where we started, and this is where we’ll always be.

Q: WHAT’S NEXT FOR JACOBSEN SALT CO.?

A: Our goal is to become the number one finishing salt brand in America. Though I realize we’ve got a long way to go before that happens. Regardless, I’m excited to continue to work with chefs and home cooks, and to help people understand the beauty and significance of using good salt – not just average salt – a complement to every single meal.

TO SEE MORE

Follow Ben and the Jacobsen team on Instagram @jacobsensaltco. Or if you’re in Portland pop by their tasting room at 602 SE Salmon and say hello. Open M-F, 11am-5pm.