The Fairs family have been farming for 35 years in and around Heveningham, near Halesworth in Suffolk, but in 2001 Sam Fairs was inspired to develop a new product from the rapeseed crop after hearing a friend had been rapeseed oil tablets to lower his cholesterol. Sam began to experiment with the cold pressing the rapeseed into a premium cooking oil that has half the saturated fat of olive oil and is high in omega-3, an essential fatty acid which can help lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Rape covers about 3% of England's farmland and closer to 10% in some areas but it is not a crop that we usually associate with food. It's main use is for the manufacture of cooking oils, margarine and processed foods, with much of the by-product used as animal feed. Many varieties aren't even edible and are used for the production of lubricants and adhesives to cosmetics and gardening products.
It was fascinating to talk to Sam about the challenge of getting people to switch their buying and cooking habits. Sam talks about how olive oil has become so deeply ingrained in our minds as THE healthy oil, the one we reach for automatically in the supermarket aisle or standing at the stove. His focus is on educating people about the health benefits of rapeseed oil and encouraging them to try the taste for themselves. He tells me how in their experience once people have tried Hill Farm Oils they are converted (I vouch for this). Their greatest marketing opportunity is to get people to see the oil being used in cookery demonstrations, used in recipes and promoted by food writers and chefs. Mark Hix is a great fan and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall often uses it in his recipes. Mike Keen, Head Chef at The Anchor, Walberswick tells me he's a big fan and we'll use it wherever possible in Food Safari cookery demonstrations to encourage more people to give it a try.
Sam gives me a tour of the site and talks through the cold pressing process and shows me the bi-product which becomes cattle feed. The whole process from pressing to bottling is extremely high-tech and makes use of some very expensive bits of kit. The Fairs family have invested heavily in this enterprise.
Sam generously gives me several bottles of oil to try at home and to pass on to friends and chefs!
I've made great use of it and recommend it to add texture and flavour to home-made bread, to replace butter in muffins and flapjacks and for stir-frys and roasting vegetables; its high smoke point make it ideal for this.
If like me, you try to buy as much food locally as you can, Hill Farm Oil is great news - single-estate, extra-virgin oil from just up the road - has to be a great alternative to Italian, Greek or Spanish olive oils.