Whether carved out of honey-hued, Mediterranean olive wood or wrought in ornate sterling silver, cellars are more than just a sensible choice for storing spices and seasoning. Sure, these open or lidded dishes are the ideal vessels for dispensing the larger and irregularly shaped grains of sea salt, but cellars have a long, rich history that extends all the way back to the Roman Empire. They give quick, convenient access to the most universal ingredient in our kitchens and are stylishly designed and meant for display on counters or tabletops. People have been doing this for thousands of years. You can carry this tradition forward into your home, making food prep that much easier, and there’s no better way to keep your delectable Louis Sel within reach.
Have you ever noticed on cooking shows how professional chefs never reach for a salt shaker when seasoning food? That’s not because they don’t use salt. Quite the contrary, salt is such a vital ingredient to chefs that they instead use salt cellars or similar containers called salt pigs to get to the good stuff more easily. Oink!
These handy tools are lovely enough to be left out even when you’re not in the kitchen. Salt cellars range in size and material, from durable marble to sleek glass and steel vessels. Salt pigs are typically larger than cellars, made of stoneware, and have a large, snout-like opening. Some craftsmen give a clever wink to cooks in their design, with containers that are actually shaped like whole pigs or have triangular ears cheekily perched atop the dish.
Whatever the mode, cellars bring more than just form to the kitchen. Chefs prefer them for their function and keep a filled cellar at the ready since nearly all dishes, sweet or savory, call for salt. Typically, chefs measure from cellars in “pinches.” This is the rough amount that can be held between the thumb and forefinger, which is equivalent to about an eighth of a teaspoon.
Pigs and cellars are sometimes sold with little serving spoons that measure out portions similar to a pinch. If not, these spoons are also sold separately for home cooks who prefer scooping the same amount every time. Spoons are particularly useful for preventing contamination to the entire store of salt in the cellar when you’re working with certain raw foods like meat or eggs.
Beyond cooking, open-form cellars are an ideal way to serve finer sea salts when entertaining. Setting out an attractive salt cellar heaped with a beautiful Fleur-de-Sel makes all the difference between sliced vegetables and crudité. Whip out a block of cheese, some softened butter, a stack of crisp crackers, and you’ve got a lovely spread with salt there to enhance the other elements. The cellar brings an easy elegance to your cocktail table that a salt shaker just cannot carry, and the grains typically can’t pass through the screened shaker lids.
Salt pigs and salt cellars can be sourced locally in any specialty kitchenware store and even some major discount retail chains have begun to carry them. A host of options can of course be found online too. Eagle-eyed shoppers can spot them in antique or vintage stores as recorded history of salt cellars dates to the early days of Western civilization when Rome was first strategically located near a salt bed in the marshes at the mouth of the Tiber River. Be a part of history, get a cellar for your salt, and do as the Romans do!