A Nevada couple has taken salt to a whole new level.
With catchy names like “Das Bigfoot,” “Gorilla, Gorilla” and — you may want to just whisper this one — “French Tickler,” Saltlickers has been catching the eye, and taste buds, of farmers’ market shoppers in both Des Moines and Ames this summer.
Owners of the business, which is run out of their commercial home-based kitchen in Nevada, Jennifer Knox, 50, and her husband Collin Switzer, 54, come up with their own recipes and names for their products. So far, their collection includes 13 salts and three sugars.
It was Knox, who teaches communications at Iowa State University, who actually started the business when she was single and living in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I started this out as Christmas gifts for friends. There was a big artisanal food craze (going on in Brooklyn at the time) and I got caught up in that.”
A co-worker encouraged her to turn it into a business. “At my first farmers’ market in Brooklyn, I made a ton of money. I couldn’t believe it.”
At a backyard barbecue with friends, all of whom had attended the University of Iowa, she met Switzer. “We had mutual friends that invited both of us.” That was the start of a long-distance relationship (Collin was from Iowa) that eventually led to their marriage and moving to Nevada five years ago. Collin works as a discharge planner at Mary Greeley Medical Center.
During their courtship, Knox said, “Collin came to New York” and saw what she was doing with salts in her small apartment. “He said we could so do this in a house.”
Bringing him into the business was a great thing, Knox said, because her husband is good at streamlining processes. With the two working in tandem, the business has grown.
At the end of 2013, when they settled in Nevada, Knox saw that the Des Moines Farmers Market was taking applications. “I said to him, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ And he said, ‘Let’s do it.’” So, they applied (to the Des Moines market) and because their business is unique and their products are all home-made, they were accepted and have been making that weekly trip to Des Moines on Saturdays from May through October. Recently, they’ve split up so they can cover both the Main Street Market in Ames and the market in Des Moines each week.
Salt, lots of names, flavors, fun
Salt gets a bad reputation sometimes, where health is concerned, but Knox said a lot of that has to do with its use in pre-packaged foods and the overload of preservatives and sodium in them. “But if you’re cooking and using ingredients from scratch (like what they do with salt), you never get all that sodium … so our salts are good with a lot of diets.”
Knox and Switzer get salt and grind whole spices in with it. For example, “we don’t use garlic powder, we use whole garlic.” She said their products also have no desiccants, which can dry out many products.
It will come as no surprise to people in this area that the most popular selling salt for Saltlickers is “Cy Salt,” a name given to the blend by Switzer’s mom (his parents live in Nevada, too). For Cy Salt, they grind onions, garlic, peppercorns and leafy herbs like parsley, basil and dill. “We grind them all together with our recipe that gives our ratios of herbs to salt,” she said.
One of their friends came up with the name of the salt that is their “opponent” to the Iowa State-named salt. “Herky Perky” is inspired with Hawkeye fans in mind. “For it, we take leafy herbs like parsley, mixed with paprika, peppercorns, garlic and lemon. It also has soy sauce and vinegar (in their powder forms) added to give it a little ‘tang.’”
Herky Perky is often the popular choice for people who love lemon pepper. And Knox breaks down both university-inspired blends in this way: “In this house, Cy Salt goes on just about anything. But when it’s egg and potato time, it’s Herky; and for wings on the grill, it’s Herky; and for Thanksgiving, you have to have Herky turkey…and with the leftovers, you have to make Herky turkey jerky.”
On Cy-Hawk weekends for football and basketball, Saltlickers usually offers a special deal on what they call their “Iowa Nice Box.” This package includes Cy Salt, Herky Perky and one of their sugars, “Iowa Nice Spice,” which Knox describes as tasting like a snickerdoodle cookie in a jar. “I love it on grilled fruit. It’s also good in oatmeal, on French toast and pancakes.”
Iowa Nice Spice is also featured in a new drink recipe that one of Cook’s Emporium’s bloggers just came out with, called the Ginger Lime Margarita. Knox said they will share that recipe on their website, salt-lickers.com, too.
She laughs when sharing that she was doing a cooking class at Wheatsfield this past year when someone asked her if they had any new flavors coming out. They were working on what has now become French Tickler and she shared that with the class. “I said I wasn’t sure we could call it that, and someone said not only can you call it that, you must call it that.” French Tickler has lavender, vinegar, tarragon and parsley in it, and Knox said, “On sweet corn, it’s crazy good.”
As cold weather comes, one of the most popular salts will be “Das Bigfoot,” a Bavarian-style flavor that uses whole fennel seeds, anise, caraway, coriander and mustard. “It’s great on chuck roast with red wine. Colin loves it on carrots and cabbage. It’s not for everyone, but people who love it, really love it,” she said.
Working together to mix salts, especially when they make them fresh, takes a good amount of time each week, Knox said, but it’s an enjoyable way for the couple to spend time together. “We have so much fun…it’s like cooking for a thousand, and it’s fun knowing people get to make their food delicious (because of the salts). Our customers really love our product.”
Many buy from them at farmers’ markets, but there are also other ways to buy, especially during the months when there are no farmers’ markets. They sell from their website, www.salt-lickers.com, and they are also on shelves at a number of Central Iowa locations: Wheatfield Cooperative, Ames; Cook’s Emporium, Ames; Gateway Market in Des Moines; Dog Patch Urban Gardens in Des Moines; Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely; and through Ames Farm to Folk CSA. “We are also about to go into the Stanhope Locker,” Knox said, and don’t be surprised if they make it into a nearby orchard this fall as well.
Farmers’ market shopping still has a number of weeks yet this fall, and Knox said if you’re going and planning to buy from them, watch their social media postings on the mornings of the markets. “We put up a secret word early that morning through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and if you say it (at the booth), you get a dollar off any jar, and we then call you a savvy shopper.”
Wondering about prices? Saltlickers sells 2-ounce jars for $7; 4-ounce jars for $10; and has specials, three small jars for $20 or three large jars for $25.
Knox said when farmers’ markets end this fall, they usually have to prepare for a busy holiday season of sales online. In Story County, she said, they can make arrangements for people to pick up products from them at their home, too.