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Havsnø – Viking Salt Taking the World by Storm

Close-up of Havsnø salt
Photo: Havsnø

AUKRA: Icy, crystal-clear water of the Norwegian Sea is converted into sea salt that receives acclaim from some of the world's top chefs. The unique purity and flavor are achieved through methods used in Norway since the Viking era. Havsnø (Sea Snow) is the result of one passionate American, her husband and his ties to the island of Gossen at the west coast of Norway.

 

-The best thing about Havsnø for me is that it very rarely feels like work; it feels like a calling, says American Michal Christina Bietz, the founder and co-owner of Havsnø.

 

Michal Christina Bietz, the founder and co-owner of Havsnø.
Michal Christina Bietz, the founder and co-owner of Havsnø. Photo: Havsnø

-I was thinking even tonight when I was out walking my dog, about what I like about what I do, and it comes down to this: I love the idea that someone in a kitchen somewhere, making dinner for the people they love or for customers they care about, is using my salt. And the thought that my salt, as an ingredient, might bring joy to their process and be a small part of making their meal better or more delicious, makes me SO happy, she says enthusiastically.

 

The Easter Holiday that Started the Adventure

 

It all began with a fishing trip off the island of Gossen in Aukra, Møre og Romsdal. Michal Christina was out on a boat with her Norwegian husband Arve Peder Øverland and their two boys. They lived in Oslo but were vacationing in her husband's hometown of Aukra. The year was 2012, and it was the Easter holiday.

 

-We had been out fishing and I was looking out at the sea from up at the house and thought aloud, ‘how come no one is making sea salt in Norway? We have the most clean and beautiful seawater in the world!’ Michal Christina tells. She always had a love for both salt and the sea.


The snow-covered mountains of Aukra
Havsnø is produced in beautiful Aukra. Photo: Havsnø

 -The next morning, we went to Coop and bought four 10-liter jugs, filled them with seawater, and filled a crab pot in the boathouse, turned it on full, and let it cook. Eight hours later, my husband brought the pot up to the house. It was completely destroyed. Calcium had hardened into a shell-like lining on the entire inside, except for a small circle in the center of the bottom of the pot where, unbelievably, there was...salt! I was hooked! We were still living in Oslo at the time. I bought six more 10-liter jugs, filled all ten of them up, and drove home with 100 liters of seawater and started cooking it on my stove in my kitchen in Oslo.

 

And so the salty fairytale began. And with that, an old, but extinct, art was revived - Norwegian salt tradition. For centuries, sea salt was produced along the Norwegian coast. But as cheap imported salt took over, salt production in Norway weakened in the early 1800s. In recent times, few has ventured into salt production – but Havsnø made the cut.

 

A handful of flaky salt.
Photo: Havsnø

The entrepreneurial couple moved from Oslo to Gossen in Aukra in 2014, the place where Arve's family has roots to before the 1700s. Today, from their house on Gossen, you can see the sea on one side, where the evening sun lands late on summer evenings; on the other side, mighty mountains tower.

 

Michal Christina and Arve moved here in 2015 and have never looked back. It began here with a couple of jugs of icy seawater. And it was here they started the production of Havsnø, which now receives praise from gourmet experts worldwide.


Life can take funny turns, and this was probably not what Michal Christina expected to end up doing when she grew up in Portland, Oregon in USA. But her interest in good food and quality ingredients started early — Portland is considered one of the American cities with the most exciting and vibrant food culture.

 

Blending Traditional Methods, High-Tech, and Sustainability

 

The only ingredient in Havsnø is seawater. And nothing is left to chance when Norwegian seawater is turned into top-class salt. The salt makers collect the seawater from a special place, Saltsteinsleia. Divers have found that this is the perfect spot, as the seabed is abundant with shellfish. They help both increase the levels of healthy minerals and filter the seawater in nature's own way.

 

From Saltsteinsleia, the icy seawater is pumped up into large vats. Salt making is a craft, and Havsnø is harvested by hand. The methods Michal Christina and her team use in production are based on old methods dating back to Viking times. But the salt makers have also introduced top modern technology to refine purity and taste.

 

-We’ve modernized older techniques, all of which used firewood to heat the seawater. We use a combination of custom-built lamps and vacuum evaporation to create Havsnø sea salts—both flakes and finer and coarser salts used in food production and preservation, says Michal Christina.

 

Arve Peder Øverland
Markus Böttcher. Photo: Havsnø

-When it comes to sea salt or evaporated salts, I’ve found that the choices I make in temperature and time are fundamental to the taste of the end product. Our process has multiple steps, and we get the highest quality when the salt brine is at the correct temperature and salinity at each stage. We also dry the salt without direct heat, leaving a slightly higher moisture content and creating a more delicate flake. Every salt maker has a style they like best, and this just happens to be ours. There is a lot of really good flake salt out in the world, and we’re happy to be one of them!


Not least, the production process is 100% sustainable. All packaging is made of recycled paper, with biodegradable inner bags and recyclable pouches. Now it takes just six days from seawater to packaged salt, ready to be enjoyed.

 

Wanted by the Top Chefs

 

In just a few years, Havsnø has gained many fans, some of whom are particularly discerning about quality ingredients.

 

The Norwegian Culinary Team uses Havsnø, as do most Norwegian restaurants with Michelin stars. Names familiar to Norwegian food enthusiasts include Maaemo and Kontrast in Oslo, as well as Colonialen in Bergen and Re-naa in Stavanger.


A ready-made package of Havsnø salt in nature.
Havsnø is wanted by the Top Chefs. Photo: Havsnø

 The unique texture and taste of the salt have spread by word of mouth, and the reputation of this pure salt is spreading among top chefs worldwide. For example, it has reached Restaurant Geranium in Copenhagen, Denmark, which has three Michelin stars and is known as one of the world's best restaurants. They are now one of the customers of the salt makers in Aukra.

 

Havsnø is also sold in several countries in Europe, the USA, and Australia. Norwegians can buy Havsnø at the Meny grocery chain.

 

The customers have a variety to choose from. Havsnø comes in several textures. Fine, flake and coarse and flake blended with organically grown Norwegian seaweed.


Life as a Salt Maker

 

It has taken courage, creativity, and countless hours of work to go from jugs of seawater and kitchen experiments to producing world-class salt. For Michal Christina, the journey has been priceless.


Ponds of water at the beach
Photo: Havsnø

-In the past 10 years, there have been so many experiences that have encouraged us forward, and several that have made me question what I am doing, but I have honestly never even considered giving up. On some level, that may seem crazy, but I prefer to see it as a passion that has only one outlet. I know I would never feel comfortable saying, 'I used to be a salt maker,' or 'I once owned a sea salt company.' Those words won’t ever be spoken by me; it will always be 'I am' and 'I own,' she says with a smile.

 

It has been a decade since Havsnø saw the light of day. And the salt makers on Gossen have clear goals for the coming years.

 

-My goal for Havsnø is to seek out niche markets, the chefs and small producers, and small deli owners who care deeply about their raw ingredients and the way they are made, and source the highest quality they can find for the communities, customers, and people that they serve, and bring Havsnø to as many of them as would like to have it. And to do it one person at a time. Building relationships that last with caring customers and small businesses is a win-win, and I can’t think of a more enjoyable job to have or a more enjoyable way to build a company. The goal I’ve already achieved is that I look forward to waking up and working for myself tomorrow morning, to continue building a small brand and product that has the potential to create a joyful experience for others, concludes Michal Christina.


A red boathouse with a purple sky in the background.
Photo: Havsnø

Are you inspired by the story of American Michal Christina Bietz, who found her passion in a Norwegian village? Discover more village gems here.


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