A few weeks ago I discussed the the ins and outs of one of our kitchen staples, olive oil. Our supplies of that product can come from as close as Oregon or as far away as Australia. This week I discovered another edible oil that comes from much closer to home, certified organic BC Hazelnut oil, expeller cold pressed on Salt Spring Island and distributed under the name Saltspring Sunrise Premium Edibles. I’ve always enjoyed nut oils like hazelnut and walnut, but again, like olive oil, they are all imported and you don’t know what’s gone into their manufacture.
You know me, I love wandering up and down aisles of specialty food shops and I come across a bottle of this oil at the Community Farm Store in Duncan and when I read the label and discovered it was being made on Salt Spring I had to buy some, absolutely loved it and then just followed the website info to the phone number of the young entrepreneur behind the company, Bejay Mills.
This is another great story about someone getting interested in where their food comes from and discovering that something they wanted wasn’t available here, but the potential for producing it was: “The harder I looked, the more I realized that nobody around here was making oils, and they certainly weren’t making hazelnut oil. So I got an expeller and we set it up on my parents’ farm on Salt Spring and we started pressing some hazelnut oil.
He’d never done anything like this before, but Bejay does have experience in the agricultural field, he works as an entymologist on the Saanich Peninsula studying and developing natural, biological methods of controlling pests in our crops. So that was why producing an organic oil was a priority for him. That meant having to source the nuts from the Fraser Valley, his only current source of certified organic hazelnuts, then getting them to the press on Salt Spring. The Fraser Valley is home to most of BC’s commercial hazelnut production. But he feels there is a lot of potential for more production on this side of the water. “On Vancouver Island, and on Salt Spring, there are pockets of production, some of it on a commercial basis, but not organic. But maybe we could set up some sort of co-op, and help people get organic certification so we can get our nuts from a more local source.
The thing that I’ve come to realize in my years spent here in BC, there’s a lot of ‘oh, we used to grow this and that…’, but farmers stopped because they probably couldn’t make any more money from the products or the infrastructure to process or store products was lost when cheaper imports became more readily available here. This oil doesn’t come at a discount price, tt’s about 23 dollars for a 250 ml bottle…but if you taste it I think you’ll agree it’s worth having in your cupboard to use strictly for salad dressings or to drizzle over finished dishes. Believe me you can pay that much for some of the fancy olive oils we import here. And as with most of our local products, we know exactly what goes into it because we can ask the producer, as I asked Bejay to describe what expeller cold pressed means: “There is basically a big drill bit in a sheath that crushes up the nuts. At the end of the sheath there is a small hole, about double the size of a strand of spaghetti, where the nut meal comes out, and then these tiny holes on the side of the sheath are where the oil drips out.” Then they let the oil sit so any sediment settles to the bottom, and then there is just a light filtering to remove any further sediment and the oil is ready to bottle, hopefully with as much hazelnut flavour intact as possible.
I also had Jo-Ann taste a couple of other things on my radio show today: pasta tossed with a pesto I made using the hazelnut oil, roasted hazelnuts, garlic, cilantro, lemon juice and rind and Parmesan cheese…and then I used a sample of hazelnut flour, another product Bejay is developing from the nutmeal left over once you’ve pressed the oil out. The recipe is called Chocolate Mud Cake, but it is like a sacher torte, a chocolate cake that only has hazelnut flour in it along with the chocolate, cocoa, butter, sugar and eggs. But it means that is a gluten-free cake, and Bejay has already had interest expressed in the flour by some local bakeries that are always looking for gluten-free flours to bake into their products.
Bejay Mills has a good distributor, so he’s already in about 25 stores around BC, because everyone has been having that same great reaction to the flavour of this oil. His plan calls for putting walnut oil into production once he finds enough organic trees around for that, he has some already on his parents’ farm and although they can produce a couple of hundred pounds of walnuts each, you need a lot to produce even a small amount of oil. And he’s going to be experimenting with growing some pumpkins to produce pumpkin seed oil and has been talking with local farmers about pressing some certified organic canola seed into oil….if you’ve ever had that it has a remarkable flavour to it and a bright yellow colour, totally different to the canola oil most of us use.
One of the recipes I used today came from a New Zealand nut company website, so you can find the pesto recipe here. The chocolate mud cake recipe is here, although the hazelnut flour isn’t available from Bejay just yet. You may be able to find another source like the Bob’s Red Mill line. If you go to the Saltspring Sunrise website you can find a list of retailers for the hazelnut oil.
To listen to my chat with Jo-Ann Roberts of All Points West on this topic, the audio will eventually be posted here, along with previous editions of my column. Happy Listening!