In the 18th century France experienced a growth in its international trade and this led to a vast increase in demand for salt. At the same time the population was increasing, creating an environment that was ripe for the development of numerous underground salt mines. The first of these mines were discovered in what is now known as Brittany and these became major economic factors in the region. Thus, the term ‘brigading’ became synonymous with French cooking and soon brigs were not only associated with French food, but also with salt itself.
The best way to understand the development of the industry is to consider the geographical location of the various regions that joined to form the main grouping of French provinces. The most prolific area for mining was the Loire Valley and the largest deposits of salt were found there. From the Loire Valley, the mineral wealth of southern France was moved on to the coasts and to the French islands that made up the Grand-Daddy of all French cooking, the island of Savoy. From there, salt quickly spread all over France and even to Germany whose trade was vitally important to France, especially from the Rhine-Loraine valley.
In the Thirteenth century, a great development happened along the banks of the Rhone River in what is now known as Burgundy. Here, the production of savoy was stimulated by the discovery of a large deposit of salt in the mountains nearby. This salt proved to be much more reliable and marketable than the previous deposits of salt. A considerable development took place in the following centuries and it became almost necessary for the whole country to produce its salt. The tradition of buying france salt in the street began to disappear and in some areas it became impossible to buy without traveling to the nearest town.
Throughout the thirteenth century, the rivers of France and Savoy were joined together forming the Grandes Tordes. These rivers allowed the production of salt, the demand for which was increased by the need for salt, especially because of the growing population of France. This, together with the increased efficiency of the French agricultural system made salt an extremely profitable industry for both the country as a whole and for each particular region within it. One of the most important sections of the country where salt could be found in significant quantities was the department of Savoy.
Savoy had been under the rule of the Duke of Burgundy since the 11th century. During this time, the city grew to become one of the most important cities in France and was home to many of the most influential families and their courtiers. As such, there were several gates and palisades in the city which were constructed from the best local sandstone. These gates, known as the “petite gabelle” or “little castles”, were beautifully carved and their carvings were extremely popular with the visiting dignitaries. Although the carvings on these gates were usually very intricate, the design of the petite gabelle was a far cry from the intricate carvings that were characteristic of the more elaborate and famous “grand escarpets”.
Today, the “petite gabelle” is an acceptable term for any type of salt used to enhance the flavor of food and for its medicinal purposes. Today, anyone can buy French salt and use it to add taste and color to their favorite dishes. Some people use the salty products for culinary uses while others use the contraband for seasoning their own food. The contraband is often found being sold in the underground market of Paris.
The “petite guaire” is the term given to the “small river guards” that were stationed at strategic points on the border between Champagne and Poitiers. These river guards served the purpose of protection against marauding bands that roamed the countryside looking to loot and pillage. When the “petite guaire” was created, they were also given a name that meant “little bird” in French. These “bird dogs” or “little birds” as they were called, used their skills to spy on the enemy and to protect the border villages from marauding bands that crossed the small rivers that ran through the French Country.
The “petite guaire” served as the main line of defense against any marauding force that might try to attack the French Country. The “guaire” or “little bird dogs” were also sent into the valleys to keep an eye on livestock. This arrangement worked very well until the harvest season of 1693 when the farmers began to be stolen and killed by marauding bands from the mountain communities. This led to the creation of the smuggling route in the La belle River that connected the towns of Dieppe, Amboise, and Chateauneuf-en-Auxois.