The photo above shows the following kinds of salt: sel gris (grey sea salt, top left), sale grosso (coarse sea salt, right), sale fino (fine sea salt, bottom left).
Growing up in Italy, a store I visited often was the tabaccheria across the street from the apartment building where I lived. Vanessa of Italy in SF just published a post with a nice photo of the sign that marks the presence of such a quintessential Italian store. The sign tells you that in the store you can purchase: sali, tabacchi and valori bollati, i.e., salts, tobacco products, mail stamps, stamps for documents and stamped paper sheets. The last two articles are necessary in Italy to make bureaucracy work (this is a long story, which I may one day tell you to make you laugh — if you are Italian, though, it is no laughable matter).
Sale grosso is what my mother adds to boiling water to cook pasta and sale fino is what she uses to season food. That is the simple world in which I grew up. To be honest, there is another kind of salt, salgemma (rock salt), but I don't think my mother used it, so I don't. Sea salt is harvested in saline (salt works). The two white salts in the photo were harvested in Sicily, in the province of Trapani (a city located on the top left tip of the triangular island).
The language corner — The word salario (salary) has its root in the allowance paid to Roman soldiers to buy salt. A food lacking salt and/or flavor is described as insipido.
The history corner — In 1540, my home town of Perugia fought a war against the Pope called Guerra del Sale. Forced to purchase salt from the papal state's salt works at a high price, people tried to limit their consumption. Bread without salt — the famous pane sciapo — is a type of bread still enjoyed today, whose flavor surprises visitors.
Sel gris (unprocesses sea salt) and other so-called gourmet salts are described on this page. When I visited the San Francisco Fancy Food Show last January, I saw an incredible array of flavored salts. One of them caught my fancy: vanilla salt. I will talk about it in a future post. The only flavored salt I have ever bought is matcha salt, which I purchased a while ago (together with the grey salt) from the company where I get my loose leaf tea, and which I have been using mostly to decorate and flavor Lavash crackers.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the sale audio file [mp3].