Tom Leach & Moe McKeown from Dingle Sea Salt I Salann Mara an Daingin won Gold in 2022 for their Irish Sea Salt. Drawing on a love of the sea they became friends when they both moved to Dingle and bonded over the water so to speak! The Atlantic waters are now their core ingredient, that and patience! As keen surfers they are well used to be patient for the right conditions and they seem to be building the business in this slow, methodical process and drawing on what’s around them, working with many in the Dingle community (designers, photogrpahers & illustrators) to bring their product to market
When & why did you start your business?
We started out in 2019 with the vision to create an artisan sea salt from the Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne) that would give consumers a sustainable alternative choice for Irish sea salt.
Who is your food inspiration?
We take our inspiration from the land and seascape surrounding the Peninsula, and a desire to preserve the natural environment around us.
We were inspired to act sustainably in every aspect of our enterprise – from hand harvesting the sea salt, sourcing local ingredients, using plastic-free packaging that minimises waste, and harnessing the available sun and wind to naturally power our seasonal evaporation process.
What do you love about your job?
As keen surfers used to waiting for the right conditions, there is huge satisfaction to working with the ocean and elements to create our sea salt.
Given our natural evaporation process is 100% off-grid, we can only encourage the slow evaporation process as best we can. Mostly, we are patiently waiting for the right conditions for our sea salt crystals to form in their own time.
This could be days, or weeks, depending on the weather and the time of year. So when a batch is finally ready for harvesting and the anticipation is over, this is hugely rewarding to us!
What is your typical day?
Our harvesting season runs only from late spring to late autumn. On a harvesting day, we would be checking the weather and swell conditions before choosing the optimal spot where the ocean is at rest and we can ensure only the clearest Atlantic sea water is harvested.
Once the sea water has been collected and filtered, we head to our solar evaporation tunnel to fill our ponds and check on the progress of the evaporation beds.
When a batch has been evaporated, it is gathered by hand, quality checked and stored, before each jar is prepared.
We fill, label, heat brand the cork, and string tie each jar by hand. This takes time, but this hand-finishing ensures that each jar is unique and we can be 100% confident of the highest quality product.
What was your best day since you started your business?
Without a doubt, the day we won gold at the Blas na hÉireann awards in 2022 was monumental for us.
Developing our novel approach and choosing the most sustainable packaging materials available had thrown up so many challenges for us as we built our business from concept to pilot-scale to full-scale production.
We believed firmly that our gentle evaporation process resulted in a distinct flavour profile and that the difference could be tasted. So after nearly three years of product development and countless challenges along the way, to have this independently verified through blind taste-tasting against some outstanding Irish sea salts was a massive confidence boost for us, and validation that our hard work had been worthwhile.
Where do your ingredients come from?
Currently, we use only the pure Atlantic Ocean to make our sea salt, sourced from the waters surrounding the Dingle Peninsula.
We have some exciting flavored sea salts in the pipeline, the ingredients for which will be grown organically by Tom, foraged locally, or sourced from local independent suppliers. So watch this space!
Tell us about the people you work with?
Tom is a qualified organic horticulturalist and landscaper by trade, and Moe is a scientist with experience in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics production.
We moved to the Dingle Peninsula with our partners around 2015. We forged a friendship through our shared passion for surfing and it was on the water that the idea for making sea salt through solar evaporation came about. Our shared respect for the natural environment meant that we needed to rethink how sea salt is made in colder climates. Business-as-usual was not an option for us.
Drawing on our complementary backgrounds and experience, we worked together to devise a low-carbon method to create our sea salt by harnessing the elements we were so familiar with through surfing. Using the pristine Atlantic waters from the area, combined with the sun and the wind, to produce a sea salt in a way that is gentle on the environment and in line with our beliefs.
In addition, the Kingdom of Kerry is home some of the best talent Ireland has to offer, and every aspect of our business has been supported by local enterprises, including highly talented designers (Anchor Studio, Kenmare), photographers (Bríd Ní Luasaigh, Dingle), digital media producers (Máire Ní Laighin, Dingle), illustrators (Dómhnal Ó Bric, Dún Chaoin) and translators (Simon Ó Faoláin, Dingle). Their support and guidance have been key to the development of our brand.
What 3 words would you use to describe yourself/your business?
What do you think is the key to success?
Its early days for us yet, so whether we will be successful remains to be seen! However, the following advice has served us well so far:
Make sure you have a clear point of difference that makes you standout in your field.
Have a well-thought-out business plan and stick to this no matter what bumps you hit on the road. Don’t react to these external factors if it means you are deviating from your plan, your beliefs or your business’ core principles.
And always seek out as much mentoring advice as you can – learn from others mistakes rather than you own.
Always be kind.
Has there been one single moment which has changed how you look at your business?
For us, the day we went from pilot scale (effectively trialing our unique production method in our back garden), to finally reaching full scale and putting up our full-size evaporation tunnel.
With the help and a lot of hard work from some very appreciated friends, this was the day we finally saw our idea and design come to life. After years of refining and improving our process (and a lot of head scratching), this was the day when our little idea became a business.
We now have the capacity to share our sea salt, and our story, with a much wider community.