One of the South West’s most talented chefs, Martin Blunos was born and brought up near Bath, his parents having come to England from Latvia just after the Second World War. He has held two Michelin stars for more than 15 years and appears regularly on television and radio with regular slots as guest chef on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen with James Martin, BBC Market Kitchen, ITV Daily Cooks and ITV’s Saturday Cooks.
I’m a big fan of rapeseed oil and champion its qualities and local provenance. So it was great to be invited to see the harvest and process that gets those tiny black seeds, from the bright yellow flowers, to release the prized golden oil.
I was lucky, along with Lance, my wing man form the restaurant, to be shown the whole shebang from field to bottle by the energetic and knowledgeable Charlie Beldam of Cotswold Gold. His business is growing year on year and Charlie knows everything there is to know about rapeseed oil. Not only does he work on the family farm in Stanton near Broadway up in Worcestershire, which also grows wheat, beans and even, (not a farmed crop, I might add) wild strawberries, a few of which Charlie’s mum found in the farmhouse garden for us to enjoy with an alfresco lunch after the tour, he also promotes his oil at shows around the country.
Arriving at East Lodge Farm it was straight on with the tour. Harvested seeds were weighed, checked, sampled and then tipped into a corkscrew hopper that carried them to silos from where they are sieved of their chaff then conveyored to a storage shed. Then it was a short trip past fields of near ripe wheat on either side of us – the next crop to be harvested after the rapeseed – and back to the farm’s weighbridge with a trailer full of freshly harvested seeds.
The crop had been part harvested by the two combines that were busy cutting through the swathes of rape. It didn’t take much persuading to get us in the cab of each monster of a machine; after all we are West Country boys.
Fun over and expecting to see a massive rumbling contraption of cogs and grinding stones, like those I’ve seen in flourmills, it was a surprise when Charlie ushered us into his pressing, filtering, bottling and labelling plant. Perhaps plant is the wrong word, it’s actually a converted part of the now defunct dairy (the farm’s previous life involved cattle). The two presses can run 24/7 and are barely bigger than domestic mincer attachments for your Kenwood – and just as quiet. They are fed the black seeds by a hopper from above and the golden oil dribbles constantly. It is then stored in large stainless steel vats to settle before being filtered, bottled and labelled – a job now done by an awesome looking piece of kit. In the early days it was all done by Charlie’s fair hand on the dining room table, which on the day it gave way (a couple of hundred bottles of oil being too much for it to bear), and after a cleanup operation he was relegated to the old dairy.
He is now developing flavoured rape oils – the dill and the smoked being particular favourites of mine.
The end result of 2011’s harvest was brilliant. I, for one, am now more educated and aware of what goes into producing the contents of the funky labelled bottle that is ‘Cotswold gold’!