In this installment of her Eat Ireland column, Deputy Editor Jocelyn Doyle looks at an Irish alternative to quality olive oil.
I love olive oil. I have zero Italian blood rushing through my pale Irish veins, but having lived briefly in Piemonte, I’ve taken many of their foodie customs to heart and to stomach, choosing late dinners over early suppers, espressos over Americanos and olive oil over everything. I’ll happily cheap out on cooking oils, but when it comes to the good stuff, I will always opt for quality over affordability, a motto which could come straight from the mouth of Kitty Colchester, maker of the fabulous range of Second Nature cold-pressed organic Irish rapeseed oils from Co. Kilkenny.
Kitty was raised on Drumeen Farm, the oldest existing organic farm in the country. “I grew up immersed in the organic movement. My parents are workaholics — very high energy, very passionate, very determined. They’re remarkable in what they’ve achieved.” Kitty left home in her teens, running away in rebellion against the life of farming she saw stretching in front of her. After almost 15 years, she ended up working in the food camps of Ethiopia, where harsh realities sparked a new passion for sustainable food — one strong enough to lead her back to Kilkenny. “I finally came home, wanting to do something with food but not at all sure what that might be.”
Her lightbulb moment came one day as her father was fixing the oil press. The Colchester’s practice closed circle farming, aiming to provide everything the farm needs from within, and until then had only grown and pressed rapeseed for its by-product: expeller cake, used as animal feed. The oil was a ‘throwaway product,’ given to friends or used in their own kitchen. Kitty was suddenly inspired to bottle and sell the oil, despite her father’s assertion that no one would buy it. She began selling her Second Nature rapeseed oil — Ireland’s first culinary oil — at the farmers’ market in Clonmel. It wasn’t long before Oliver Moore showed up to write about it, and the business immediately began to snowball. “Suddenly I was getting phone calls from Darina Allen, from Ross Lewis.” She hasn’t looked back since.
Having grown up immersed in the organic ethos, it was a no-brainer for Kitty to grow the rapeseed with the same sense of respect for the environment (one might say that it was second nature!). Certification from the Organic Trust means absolutely no synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, other chemicals or genetically modified seeds find their way into Second Nature’s oils; indeed, thanks to the Colchesters’ forward thinking, the soil on Drumeen Farm has been free from these nasty chemicals for over 35 years. A happy added benefit is the support this lends to struggling honeybee communities.
Kitty is a staunch believer that cold-pressing is a vastly superior way to process any type of ‘health oil’. “When you use heat in pressing, you’re affecting all of the good omegas, as well as destroying the more subtle undertones of flavour.” Furthermore, Second Nature oils are pressed only once, making them extra virgin. The dark bottles used for her gorgeously golden Second Nature oils are just as important. “When I looked at rapeseed oil on the European market, I saw mainly clear bottles. I knew they would sell better — simply because you could see the product itself — but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that dark bottles made more sense. The seed is in a dark pod on the plant itself, and you can’t beat Mother Nature.” She notes that even just a day or two in clear glass changes the colour and flavour profile considerably, a shame indeed.
Rapeseed oil is recognised for its characteristic nutritional benefits, boasting more omega 3s than olive oil with a significantly lower saturated fat content. However, Kitty’s goal is not to replace olive oil; Kitty is adamant that there’s room for plenty of different oils on the market and in our kitchens. “Rapeseed oil has the benefits of being Irish and potentially fresher, but there are situations where other oils are more suitable. I have seven or eight different oils in my kitchen and use them in a variety of ways; I’d use rapeseed oil in salad dressings, for example, but would go for avocado oil when I’m frying.” Because of its mild flavour, it’s ideal for use in recipes where the stronger taste of olive oil may be intrusive.
The range of Second Nature oils currently includes lemon, chilli, rosemary and mandarin flavoured varieties, in addition to their original “Happy Heart” oil. At one point, Kitty was also making a garlic version but chose to stop as it was only possible to produce it using a garlic concentrate. “I wasn’t prepared to keep doing that,” she says, “I only want to use fresh ingredients.”
I ask her whether there are particular ways in which she would recommend using or serving the rapeseed oil. “I prefer it cold,” she tells me, “in salad dressings, drizzled over potatoes, with bread in place of butter — in fact, anywhere you would usually use butter or imported oils. It’s also great for baking, especially in foods like flapjacks, but you can get creative with it, too; Ross Lewis in Chapter One freezes it and then shaves it over ice cream.” I am easily affected by foodie discussions and am suddenly very hungry indeed.
Enthusiastic testing sparked by this hunger reveals that Kitty’s high-quality oils are also delicious when used to make hummus, mayonnaise and dips, or drizzled over salads, pasta dishes, vegetables, meat or fish; when we make these devilled eggs in the Easy Food Test Kitchen, they last no time at all. I will never banish good olive oil from my kitchen, but there’s a permanent home beside it for this all-Irish gold.