Italy on the road
Cervia Salt and its Salina: an unmissable stop in the heart of Romagna
Discovering a unique and tasty salt: the history and culinary uses of the salt from the Cervia salt mines
Inside the Po River Delta Park there is a small corner of incredible beauty that becomes as pink as the most beautiful of sunsets when and where it is not unusual to see pink flamingos in some seasons: this is the Cervia Salina, the salt mine.
Just half an hour from the monumental city of Ravenna, a piece of ancient history can be found that blends harmoniously with nature: the history of Cervia and its salt mines probably originated around the 3rd century B.C., when the Romans, travelling up the Italic peninsula, arrived in the Po Valley.
Yet, it is only since the 10th century A.D. that mention of the city began to be made, when its original name, Ficocle (meaning ‘famous for seaweed’), became Cervia, from the Latin acervus, meaning ‘heap’, referring to the mountains of salt that towered everywhere in the area. History here is tangible, ancient.
And when referring to history here we are talking about salt, which is at the heart of it, for its nature, history, and trade.
The Cervia salt mine is no longer a pillar of the city’s commerce today, but it resisted the 1980s and 1990s, when the State Monopoly (which oversaw salt production throughout the 20th century) decommissioned a large number of mines because they were uneconomic. Cervia withstood this for two reasons: to prevent the area from rapidly turning into a swamp and for its magnificent landscape, which needed to be protected.
The Cervia Salt Mine Nature Park
The last remaining southern corner of the Po Delta Park, the Cervia Salt Mine consists of 50 basins surrounded by a very long canal, allowing water from the Adriatic Sea to flow in and out, to dry and become salt. Just like this, as it did hundreds of years ago.
Salt is even still harvested by hand in the Camillone Salt Mine and the result of this process is practically an oxymoron, a sweet salt, as it contains only the purest sodium chloride, with no bitter aftertaste derived from other chlorides.
This corner of Romagna can be explored from March to November partly by boat, on foot or riding an electric bike, and the best time to do so is in the late afternoon, when the sun starts to set and the pink of the salt mines fades into that of the sunset sky. The characteristic pink is due to the dunaliella algae, rich in lycopene and beta-carotene, which lend it this enchanting colour.
We can discover the history and feel the water of the salt mines with our hands (and feet!) and learn about the myriad uses of what was once called the White Gold: salt was so important that the legionary soldiers of ancient Rome were originally rewarded with a ration of salt, which was essential for preserving food. Hence this nickname was not so exaggerated.
Today, it is much cheaper, but it is still used in many ways, from cosmetics (a spring scrub to prepare the skin for summer is certainly not to be missed!) to cooking.
Salt, the perfect food ally
And if you, too, love to take home gourmet souvenirs from the places you visit and are planning to stock up on Cervia salt, you will be spoilt for choice in the area around the salt mine: besides the official shop, there are many other shops selling this delicious ingredient.
To buy consciously, one must take into account that salt can be coarse-grained, medium-fine (Sale dei Papi) or very fine-grained ( the one called Salfiore, surfacing and scooped with a net).
With this precious Cervia salt (and not only that) in the kitchen you can indulge in meat and fish recipes, but also just add a different touch to cheese or chocolate. You will not regret it.
But if you want to rely on tradition and play it safe, use your salt for a recipe with a history stretching back thousands of years: the Roman gastronome Marcus Gavio Apicius referred enthusiastically about baked sea bass in a salt crust almost two thousand years ago.
Anchovies in salt and sardines in salt, seared on the grill, are other genuine delicacies to enjoy in this area, perhaps served during an aperitif overlooking the sea. But Cervia salt, so sweet and tasty, is also excellent at its simplest, with a pinzimonio: fresh vegetable sticks to be dipped in high quality salt and extra virgin olive oil, with a pinch of pepper to top off one of the most popular and satisfying appetisers in the Italian tradition.
Around here, however, salt is also synonymous with fun. A trip to the Darsena del Sale is obligatory: restaurants, a concert area, a beauty SPA with a thalassotherapy path and many spaces for events are located in an area covering almost twenty thousand square metres.
The Cervia Salina can be visited from April to November. Further information is available on the website.