The earliest use of salt was in the 18th Century when the French devised a new method of preserving food. They would buy French salt from the merchants in their travels and prepare the meals themselves at home. In those times, salt was used not only for its taste but also as a preservative to preserve food. Thus, the word voyageurs was given to identify the cooks who took salt with them on their travels.
The term contraband salt came into use during the Napoleonic wars when it was used by the French navy to cook foods for the soldiers that fought on sea. While this was a great way to save money, especially for the navy, it was also illegal to carry it around. This created a sense of shame and people started to collect it and resell it to the high officials, such as the French consul in Rome or the French navy itself.
For years, French contraband salt continued to be a huge industry for those in the shipping industry. Since it could be melted down and shaped into any shape, it became especially popular with the Mafia syndicate and other criminal organizations that dealt in black market transactions. It was also rumored that some high ranking members of the French government were purchasing petite gabelle to add to their own collection. However, this was usually false. The truth was that they were buying the small packets of the salty food in bulk and reselling them.
During the late th century and the early fourteenth century, the popularity of French contraband salt continued to grow and people began to buy it for everyday cooking. By the fifteenth century, the procedure to melting it down and preparing it for use had been standardized. These new methods allowed manufacturers to mass produce a more consistent product. This helped the French to become the dominant power in the world. Even today, many chefs are still using Petite Gabelle to prepare dishes.
Historically, the term “petite gabelle” referred to the white or light-colored French salt. Today, it refers only to the smaller white version, which is more commonly known as “Grand Escarpone.” The term “Grand Escarpone” comes from the name of the city where the salt was created, and is also what you’ll commonly see on salt grills.
In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, the salt was used to make saltpans. It was also shipped to the Italian city-states of the Mediterranean, including Venice, Sicily andatorio (Sicilian coast) for use in their warring against the Greeks. In fact, the Italian navy was built around its arsenal of grapeshotchos, gun powder, and saltpans. One of the most powerful guns, the “gun powder kebab,” was actually created in the Italian city of Aix-Les-les.
Although the Grand Escarpone was primarily manufactured for the Italian wars, its eventual fate was much different. After the wars, Italy began trading with Germany. As trade relations grew between the two countries, the Italian navy grew in size and required better supplies of gunpowder to fire against its enemies. The Germans reciprocated, and in exchange for luxury salt and other high-grade materials, the Italian navy began construction of long-range guns and cannons that were more reliable than the short-range muskets and muzzle-loading cannons that had been previously used. By the mid 1800s, the development of new materials and gun technology made possible the construction of larger cannons that could fire a volley of bullets in a single shot.
Although the Grand Escarpone saw its heyday during the French Wars, it eventually fell out of favor as the relative merits of long-range cannons convinced the French that these weapons were more reliable and useful for their military needs. As gun manufacturing went into a decline in Italy, the demand for salt decreased along with it. In response to this trend, various merchants tried to find ways to increase the demand for salt and to start new markets for the product. One way that these merchants tried was to create new products that would specifically target the newly empowered middle class of Europe.