Visitors have a unique opportunity to tour what was once the largest salt producing facility in the world at J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works near Charleston, West Virginia.
Long before settlers came, Native Americans harvested salt by boiling brine from springs. In 1813, William Dickinson bought property in Kanawha County near present-day Malden. By 1817 he began operations recapturing salt from a 400-million-year-old sea below the Appalachian Mountains. Dickinson named the company for John Quincy Dickinson, his grandson.
Before long, Malden became “the salt making capital of the east.” In 1851 Great Kanawha Red Salt was named “best salt in the world” at the London World’s Fair. The salt was red because of iron (now removed) in the brine.
But hard times followed; in 1945 the company ceased operations. Some 200 years after its founding, Dickinson descendants and seventh-generation salt producers Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne redug the well and have been producing salt since.
“We are actually the only salt producers who produce salt the way we do on this continent and in this hemisphere,” said Megan Easter, operations manager. “Our methods are unique, and everything is small-batch and hand-harvested.”
The artisanal salt’s coarse texture and distinct minerality are said to heighten and enhance the flavor of foods. It can be found in more than 350 specialty food retailers and restaurants including Napa Valley’s legendary French Laundry.
J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works is open year-round, but tours are given only mid-April through late November when the facility is producing salt.
The free tour takes about 30 minutes. After learning the company’s history, groups tour the greenhouses where water is evaporated from the brine leaving salt and the processing building where the salt is cleaned, sifted and packaged for shipping.
A tasting of the company’s salt products and house-made caramel sauces follows. Syrups, hot sauces and drinking vinegars are also available for tasting. The shop sells the company’s products and other items made in Appalachia.
For more information, call 304-925-7918 or visit jqdsalt.com.
Article by Kathie Sutin