All you need to know about Salt & Pepper Mills
This week I want to talk to you about mills. No, not satanic ones, wind ones or water ones, but pepper and salt ones. Back in the bad old days there were far more badly made mills than there were great ones. And doubtless you have, if over 30 years of age, fallen foul of them, probably more than once. It may even be that 20 plus years ago you may have bought a duff set from us. How could this be, your favourite, top quality Cookshop selling substandard stuff?
Well, back in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s there were principally three manufacturers of mills available to us in this country, foremost of whom were Cole & Mason. I just hope that the current owners of Cole and Mason will forgive me for saying that, at that time, their mills were less than satisfactory. As I know that one of the ex-sales directors of that company will be reading this email I’m unsure if I’m going to get away with this character assassination. However, in my opinion they were not up to the job being somewhere between poor and rubbish.
Why? Well their pepper mills were made of steel which were not designed well and not made of a hard enough steel and quickly ceased grinding. The salt mill mechanisms were made of nylon. Strange you might think, but there was one good reason for doing so. Salt is aggressively corrosive and certainly steel doesn’t like salt and will soon rust the mechanism away and unlike some of their competitors you could not replace it when worn out. Stainless steel was used by the very upmarket manufacturers, but at the time Cole & Mason didn’t entertain it, so nylon was thought to be the best thing for the job, and to be fair to them they were not alone in their use of this material. The choice for us was limited, and feeling we needed a lower end product we continued to sell them for a good number of years and replace them as they came back not working! Eventually I got fed up with this situation and we stopped stocking them. I’m not sure when that was but I’d guess it was in the mid 90’s. The alternatives that we had were a good make called Peter Piper, who provided most of our selection and odd ones from Peugeot and Marlux.
Around that time or maybe a little later someone started to import the complete range of Peugeot mills. Now these were expensive, but with good reason. Peugeot had designed a mechanism back in the mid 1800’s that lasted and lasted and then some. My parents had one since they were married and I think my brother still has it. So, if I’m right that mill is now 60 odd years old. They, in the 20th Century designed a salt mill with a stainless steel movement and again this worked well. Then others came along, such as Williams Bounds from the USA, Crushgrind from T&G Woodware and more recently Le Creuset have produced some very good ones as well. These new boys on the block all use ceramic as their principle grinding material. Lastly, sometime in the mid to late 2000’s Cole & Mason had a change of heart and started to make well designed pepper and salt mills made from really high quality steel and ceramics and arguably their pepper mills are now some of the finest on the market. But beware of thinking they only do good movements. Their supermarket offerings (red packaging), which are much cheaper (as opposed to Cookshop and Department stores) still use nylon I believe. Easy enough to check by turning it over, if the movement of the salt mill looks slightly translucent then the that’s probably nylon. I’d advise steering clear.
Salt & Pepper Mill Ranges
I think that the message I want you to take away with you is that you may now safely rely on any mill that you buy from us. WE don’t sell any that are badly designed and we don’t sell any that have nylon in their movement (rather surprising really that they are still being made) and all of them will work well and do so for years and years. So don’t let the look of a mill sway you into buying it. It’s always the make and design of the movement that is paramount and not whether the mill body is made of wood or acrylic or cement (yes we sell all three!).
There are niceties that mills, from say Peugeot and C&M, have to give you an easy adjustment built into the lower section of the body and with most other mills (if they don’t have that whizzy adjustment on them) they will get coarser if you loosen the knob at the top, finer as you tighten it. And some, just to confuse you, don’t have a knob at the top at all either because they use the Crushgrind mechanism or are inverta mills that don’t leave little deposits around the place!
Dos and Don'ts?
Firstly a Don’t! Pepper and salt mills are NOT designed to be used above steaming pots, as steam tends to cake the salt (especially) onto the mechanism and it stops working. If you have had more than one salt mill corrode by using it above a pot of hot water, then it is time to invest in a salt pig or salt box, or you can just use a jar like Babette does, where she keeps some of her favourite Guerande sea salt….tasty stuff
Secondly pepper comes in different colours, and the pink one is very soft. If you put it in a grinder very little will come out, this is not the grinders fault, and this is probably why pink is usually sold mixed with green, white and/or black peppercorns.
Salt wise, most mills will only take Rock Salt. Only Crushgrind mechanisms can deal with the wetter sea salt. The light salts like Malden or Fleur de Sel are too light and do not work in a salt mill. Because of their lightness and friability, you can just sprinkle these on to your food.
I think that is it for this week other than to say the current brands of mills we stock are Cole & Mason, Peugeot and Le Creuset. I say that as earlier I mentioned both Marlux and William Bounds, neither of whom we currently stock. If you come across them though they are makes you can trust wholeheartedly.