When I first started Black & Gold my brother had an olive grove which came with his holiday house in Italy. He really didn't want the responsibility of olives but the local Bettona farmers persuaded him otherwise. He did have an advantage in that he was fluent in Italian from having studied in Rome in his teens and he did love Italy.
An olive harvest
In 2010 several siblings, myself and my Mum visited to actually carry out the olive harvest. Within 24 hours of harvesting the olives from the trees by catching them in huge nets, we took crates of olives to the centrifugal press where they spin the olives and separate the oil from the flesh. And that was it. Nothing added; no heat; no chemicals; no bleaching; nothing. The oil was golden, fresh and peppery and like no olive oil I had ever tasted. Santa Ciara oil was the only oil in our kitchen. There was just one problem - it was prohibitively expensive to import.
My brother joked with us, as farmers, did we not know anything about olives and could they be grown in Scotland? About that time I read about oil producers in the UK and how by cold pressing rapeseed the results were as good as olive oil. We had been growing rapeseed on the farm for decades and I had no idea that it could be used to make a culinary oil.
And so our journey began.
Extra virgin and cold pressed
If you are comparing a virgin olive oil from the Mediterranean that has been harvested and simply processed you are going to get incredible results. These oils are entirely different from the blended, bleached and bland oils that you might see on supermarket shelves.
If you are comparing cold pressed rapeseed oils from the UK you will find that they also have their own terroir, some more nutty, some more brassic, but all similarly pressed with no bleaching, heat or chemicals added and very unlike a homogenous heat processed cooking oil that you might find at the bottom of the supermarket shelves.
And of these two treasures - green, extra virgin oil and cold pressed rapeseed oil - you will find that the versatility of one against the other is what might sway you, as well as choosing a product that has low food miles.
Omega 3 and 6
Nutritionally, we compared olive oil with our rapeseed oil in tests carried out by Queen Margaret University and overall we found that the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 (ALA) was more favourable for our oil; given that we should all have less Omega 6 and more Omega 3 (DHA & ALA).
Roasting, frying and baking
And another advantage over olive oil is the versatility of rapeseed oil in roasting and shallow frying. It reaches much higher temperatures than olive oil without burning. This is wonderful if you are roasting potatoes or meats as you are not overpowered with a large plume of smoke when you open the oven door!
And if you are baking with our oil, for example - a courgette & lime cake or a date & walnut loaf, I find that the nuttiness is complementary to the flour, eggs and sugar rather than the peppery flavour of olive oil.
Keep it simple
That said, there is nothing better than olives and olive oil especially before a meal with a glass of cool wine on a summer's day. There are centuries of cultivation, history and culture related to olive oil. We're not competing with that. What we can say is that we keep it as simple as taking the flesh from the olive fruits. We take the oil from the black seeds by cold pressing and the golden oil has an aroma of fresh asparagus or shelled garden peas.
A plant bursting with flavour
It is a brassica similar to the mustard family and many of you will have had rapeseed cress without even realising it - those peppery shoots are grown from the same black seeds we press. The youngest leaves of the plants are so flavoursome in soups, salads or saag and we are lucky to be able to forage these in the fields around us. The rapeseed tops are bursting with brassic flavour and ideal in the first salads of late spring.
So when in Rome?