Liquid Gold: The Wolds farm that struck oil

While rapeseed oil may have a long way to go before it beats olive oil in the sales stakes, there are those that believe that it could one day be just as popular. One farming couple have positioned their Wolds-based operation to be market leaders.

The ubiquitous yellow fields of oilseed rape spread across the UK countryside have a contentious place in our agricultural heritage. Originally it was used only as a ‘break’ crop to help the land recover between seasons of cash crops and was considered useful only as animal feed. Then, as recently as the 1970’s, rape became a much desired biofuel commodity and the concurrent increase in value tempted British farmers to turn their land yellow. The look of the British countryside changed rapidly and money was made, but the ubiquity of oilseed rape has been linked to increased incidents of asthma and hay fever. These widely-held, potentially-stigmatising theories remain unproven but don’t seem to have affected the rise in popularity rapeseed oil.

The rich oil extracted from the rapeseed plant is now recognised by top chefs and committed foodies alike as a highly desirable alternative to olive oil and the extra virgin, cold-pressed variety not only offers more flexibility when used in cooking but is also healthier. There is a growing demand for culinary-use rapeseed oil and the UK’s farmers are racing to keep up.

One enterprising couple at the front of the pack are East Yorkshire’s Paul and Anna Jackson. They started pressing their own ‘Gold from the Wold’ rapeseed oil at their farm in Carnaby near Bridlington around three years ago and are evangelical about its benefits. ‘It has just 6% saturated fat, less then half of olive oil’, Anna says in the kitchen of their farmhouse, ‘and contains vitamin E and Omega’s 3 and 6.’ It’s a list of benefits which shouldn’t be ignored in these cholesterol-conscious days, but rapeseed really picks up brownie points is when it’s used for cooking.

It can be used in pretty much any way that olive oil can (in dressings and so on) but because it is a much more robust oil it can also be used to make the likes of roast potatoes or in stir fries without it burning or the taste being affected. Surprisingly, it is even used to make desserts; apparently it’s great in carrot cake. It’s the versatility of the oil combined with a solid product and well-designed marketing that has seen Gold from the Wold oil become a rapid success story.

‘We started making the oil because Paul was sick of seeing wagonloads of seeds leave the farm to be used in standard vegetable oil. We wanted to add value to the crop’, says Anna. This frustration with the system led the couple down a long research period during which Paul grew various test varieties, developed marketing materials and installed bottling lines in the farm outbuildings. What emerged was a distinctive, slightly nutty-tasting oil which proved immediately popular at farmer’s markets and in delis. Now Gold from the Wold can be found in some of the county’s top restaurants and bought nationally.

The Jackson’s grow all of the oilseed rape on their 4th generation family-owned farm having moved a sizeable chunk of their operation over from dairy farming. For the uninitiated, (which is probably most of us) after the plant has flowered seed pods develop and it’s the small seeds from these which are cold pressed to create the oil. The rest of the plant goes to animal feed, as does any oil not deemed good enough quality after it one month’s gravity filtration. The cheaper oils you find in supermarkets are usually hot pressed, which leaves more impurities and additives are often used to extract as much oil as possible from the crop. Paul and Anna’s oil is as pure as they can make it and has, consequently, won several Good Taste Awards.

The Jackson’s are keen to keep their oil as unspoilt as possible so they have eschewed opportunities to develop flavoured oils, concentrating instead on producing the best artisan oil they can. It’s an admirable stance but one also borne out of financial acuity as the cost of extending their minimal operation to accommodate diversification would push prices up and profits down.

Though the Jackson’s gamble has so far proven successful there are still risks involved with becoming oil producers. Cold-pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil makes high demands on the farm’s yield. Every football pitch-sized field produces around 3¼ tonnes of seed, which is enough to make somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 bottles of finished oil; far less than hot pressing would produce. Because of this Paul and Anna have to keep their standards exceptionally high so their oil maintains its position as a premier, gourmet product. Quality-committed chefs want their oil unadulterated, so that is what Gold From The Wold give them, although that often means rejecting more oil than they would like.

Paul and Anna seem very happy with the way their operation is developing and, judging by their success so far, they must be doing something right. So after over a hundred years farming history in Carnaby the Jackson family continue to tend their land and prosper. ‘In farming the previous generation never really retire’ says Anna, ‘they just gradually pass the farm on to their kids and hope that one day they can look after it’.  Here’s hoping that by the time the Jacksons hand the farm onto their kids their rapeseed oil is even more popular and lauded than it is today.

Dave Lee

 

Accompanying high res j-pegs are available here: http://bit.ly/LKgIKB – please credit Dave Lee

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