The story of how KL Keller found Gilles Hervy is one of serendipity. In about 1996, Kitty Keller was in Northwestern France visiting the mother of a dear friend of hers, who lived in Anjou. This charming elderly Frenchwoman made her a lovely, three-course lunch featuring fleur de sel from neighboring Brittany. One taste of this moist, delicate “flower of salt” with its clean, briny taste of the sea, and Kitty knew she had to have some for her own kitchen—which, of course, in the world of KL Keller, meant importing it for one and all to experience.
The challenge of finding the right salt vendor came at the expense of the French taxpayer: the son-in-law of this same woman was working for a local chamber of commerce, and—at his mother-in-law’s bidding—he spent several days dialing fleur de sel producers instead of producing spreadsheets.
After interviewing several of these, Kitty Keller found Gilles Hervy, the single artisan paludier (salt farmer) of the bunch, and Sel Natural de Guérande joined the KL Keller family of products. What stood out about Gilles Hervy? He was from Guérande, which is considered the best and most prestigious location for producing fleur de sel; he hand-harvested the salt himself, overseeing the entire process; and he had an unshakeable ethical stance.
The importing process wasn’t so easy (is it ever?). Gilles had never exported or even shipped his salt within Europe. He insisted on selling his salt production directly to the public, not to the local cooperative (“Not all of the fleur de sel is good and I don’t want mine mixed in with it”). Gilles sold his fantastic salt products in unbranded one-pound sacks at his roadside truck or in food stores and health salons around France. It was extraordinary salt, but with no commercial packaging or branding, it would be a challenge to sell overseas.
Kitty believed in Gilles Hervy and his quality, and that the market would accept this expensive but outstanding salt if it were properly packaged. So KL Keller created the branded packaging. We bought his fleur de sel and sel gris in 50 pound sacks—which we continue to do today—and packaged it and promoted it. Now, Gilles Hervy is a bona fide brand throughout the U.S. and carried by outstanding retailers .
To this day, Gilles Hervy remains a single artisan paludier in Guérande, working mostly with his family and waxing philosophic about nature and life. He continues to pack his own salt—now in branded sacks—and to send his fantastic, authentic salt products to KL Keller Foodways.