Anyone who thinks artisanal salt is so 2006 should taste Mark and Jennifer Bitterman's stash at The Meadow.

Mark Bitterman is obsessed with finding the perfect salt for every dish, even if that dish is vanilla ice cream. "Each artisanal salt has a unique character," he says. "And the full force of that character can only be brought to bear on the right food." This single-mindedness has led him over the years to become something of a global salt hunter, sourcing the mineral from the African desert, the Himalayas and the deep-sea trenches of Japan. All are now available in one place: The Meadow, a store Mark opened with his wife, Jennifer, in Portland, Oregon, four years ago.

Artisanal Salt.

© Mark Bitterman

The shop is stocked with amazing chocolate, wine and flowers, but the apothecary-like salt wall is what draws in F&W Best New Chefs like Gabriel Rucker and Naomi Pomeroy. "I finish my demiglaces with his truffled salt for a bit of earthiness," Pomeroy says.

The visual diversity among the salts is staggering, from black pyramids to delicate white flakes, and the flavor nuances call to mind wine: floral, minerally, smoky. The Meadow's collection will grow even more in the near future: Mark's upcoming guide and cookbook, Salted, describes more than 100 salts, all of which he plans to have in his store by fall. And the right salt for vanilla ice cream? Iburi Jio Cherry, from Japan, a smoked salt that somehow has a caramelly flavor ($13.50 for 1.2 oz).

Three Superb Artisanal Salts

Haleakala Ruby

This Hawaiian salt is mixed with volcanic clay, giving it a ruby-red color. Its buttery notes pair well with seafood. $10 for 1.2 oz.

Marlborough Flakey

An airy, snowflake-like salt harvested off the coast of New Zealand's Marlborough wine region. Its bright flavor is perfect with lighter foods like salads and fresh vegetables. $5.50 for 1.2 oz.

Pangasinan Star

Hand-harvested in the Philippines, this sea salt is slightly moist with a sweet, minerally taste; it's great for sprinkling over popcorn, eggs and poultry. $8 for 1.2 oz.

Salted Fudge Brownies
Maldon salt stars in these rich, chocolaty brownies.
| Credit: © Tina Rupp