Resurrecting a lost salt heritage, Darren Peattie of the East Neuk Salt Co. is on a mission to bring St Monans saltpans back with Scotland’s biggest salt production firm.
“We’re going to set up a salt company,” Darren Peattie told his wife. And with those eight words spoken aloud for the first time, he kick-started a mission to resurrect salt harvesting in Fife, preserving a rich Scottish history.
Establishing East Neuk Salt Co. mid 2019, Darren says the firm will be Scotland’s largest salt producer and is expecting to make one to two tonnes of salt every month – that’s between 7-14,000 units.
Launching a Crowdfunding campaign with numerous rewards to help get his business rolling, the entrepreneur has a target of £28,450 to hit within two weeks, with just under £5K already pledged.
Not only does Darren plan to produce salt, he also wants to open a visitor attraction, too.
He said: “It will be a modern, commercial salt operation, but I’m also going to set up a heritage company that really works and builds on the heritage of the saltpans. We’re now going to rebuild one of the old saltpans as a visitor attraction centre.
“We’ll be Scotland’s largest salt producer. We’re looking at around 7,000 units per tonne, so that’s 7-14,000 units per month for one to two tonnes. We had to go to that scale due to the demand as distribution companies, restaurants and Michelin-starred chefs who all want our salt.”
Getting rave reviews, the small batch salt he has prepared for local firms and chefs, is not for general sale yet, and Darren says the feedback from industry professionals, and most importantly the support from local people has been phenomenal.
He said:” The people in the local area are massively supportive and I see it as bringing a real gem back to the area and will also be creating local jobs for local people.
“The set up we require to make one tonne of salt is huge. We’ve been making small batch salt and giving it to local producers like The Cocoa Tree in Pittenweem who have been making chocolate caramel shards with it, The Dory Bistro, and we’ve also developed a soap brand too – we have two scents just now which are all encrusted with our salt for exfoliation.”
Inspired to restore the village’s heritage it was the opportunity to create jobs for the younger generation to give them something to stay for and be proud of, that was the real driver having left at 17 himself due to lack of opportunities.
He added: “I’d left St Monans where I grew up when I was 17 to go work in corporate finance in London. I really felt that there was more to life than a small fishing village.
“I went and worked for years and moved around in Edinburgh, Dundee, met my wife and had our eldest daughter Esme, we then decided to move to the Highlands – my wife grew up on the Isle of Canna so was very much into remote living. All the way through my life I felt something was missing. I never felt right anywhere and as soon as I moved back home, I knew it was where I was meant to be.
“I started thinking about young people having to leave the coastal villages to find work which isn’t ideal. Some of them don’t want to leave. I was down at the saltpans in St Monans and I thought, ‘salt – why hasn’t anyone done anything with it?’. I went home and said to my wife, ‘we’re going to set up a salt company’. She thought I’d gone mad.
“I started doing a lot of research into Marine Scotland and sea power and engaging with other salt companies – we were invited over to Achill Island Sea Salt to see their operation. I thought, ‘this is it’. We have such a strong heritage with salt in the East Neuk, and I want to bring it back.
“My main driver is to create employment and bring back a historic industry. We’ve already got a team lined up so we’re already making an impact already. We’re setting up an education programme telling them about the history, why we should be protecting our seas, pollution, sea life, all that kind of stuff. We want the young people to feel the salt company is theirs and they are part of it.”
Bringing salt back to St Monans
Securing a premises in Leven, Darren is determined to have his salt business based in St Monans and is currently in talks to secure the “ideal” premises.
“We’ve taken a premises in Leven for packaging and distribution but we’ve also got a premise somewhere that is very local which is great. I can’t say too much of the exact location, but we’re delighted as we were struggling to find somewhere locally. Let’s just say the salt will be based where it belongs,” he said.
Vacuum evaporation – how does it work?
Working with St Andrews University and calling on expertise Darren is also conscious of supporting the local environment and area and will run his operation on a zero-waste ethos.
Darren said: “We take 2,500 litres of water per day from the sea – we’re allowed to take 10,000 cubic metres. Sea water is 3% salinity and it has 3% of water. We need to take that water and put it under vacuum evaporation which is pressure and heat to create a brine. The brine is basically concentrated sea water. It then gets put into crystalliser trays and over several days, turns into the most beautiful salt flakes you’ll ever see. It goes on to be dried, gets packaged and is then off to retail.
All the way through my life I felt something was missing. I never felt right anywhere and as soon as I moved back home, I knew it was where I was meant to be.” Darren Peattie
“St Andrews University tested the water from the East Neuk for us and my word, I can see why it was called the white gold in the past. It is absolutely incredible. We’ll only be the third salt company in Scotland. We’re all doing things in different ways – the Isle of Skye do it in polytunnels, Blackthorn do it on a graduation tower and we’re going to use vacuum evaporation.
“We’re a zero waste business. We’re left with 900 litres of distilled water a day which will go into the pharmaceutical industry, the magnesium concentrate will go to the agricultural industry to help nourish soil, and one to two tonne of salt flakes per month.”
And they’re not only producing some of the country’s finest sea salt, East Neuk Salt Co. has been working on a new product which will help chefs across the globe when cooking.
He added: “We were given an innovation grant by the government and we’re working with a Michelin-starred chef, Mark Baker at Elmwood College, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). We’ve created a unique product which is a salt atomiser sprayer which you can apply to meat and fish during the cooking process. It retains the moisture of the food and there’s only one similar product which is based in Finland.
“The way we’ve done it, it is the only product of its kind in the world. We’re hitting the ground running with innovation as well. SRUC gave us the grant and we’ve done five flavours; garlic, lemon, rosemary, seaweed and smoked.
“With the Crowdfunder, because we’ve been given another grant we have to raise some money as well. We’re trying to raise around £28,500. I wanted the rewards to showcase the East Neuk food scene so we’ve offered a number of rewards that celebrate salt harvesting, with local butchers and fishmongers, Michelin-starred chefs like Billy Boyter of The Cellar, all tying in to promote it.”