DORSET is beginning to get a name for itself with the cold-pressed rapeseed oil produced by The Seed Company.
Made from a single variety of seed chosen for its flavour and versatility, the oil contains naturally occurring Omega 3,6 and 9 and vitamin E and has half the saturated fat of olive oil.
Ken Tuffin is managing director of parent company Pearce Seeds, and Paul Roberts who looks after the new enterprise.
The rapeseed project shows how with a bit of creative thought, energy, and cooperation between local enterprises, ideas can translate into exciting opportunities for the area.
Pearce Seeds was started more than 40 years ago by Michael Pearce, who came from a farming family in Warminster.
Says Ken Tuffin: “He worked in the seed trade and decided did to set up on his own in the village of Trent just north of Sherborne.
“Mike and I got together just over 20 off years ago when I came out of a farming family in Dorset. I’d gone and worked in the seed trade and I came and joined Mike.
“We’ve slowly grown over the intervening time, starting off purely as a seeds and then agrochemicals and advisory business and diversified out.
“So now we’re a wider ranging group with interests in animal feed in terms of game feed etc for the shooting fraternity. We’ve also got a seed production business taking seeds and working very closely with the breeders to multiply up seed from little parcels that the breeders have just bred right the way through to selling it to the farmers in high quantity volumes.
“We have the energy side where we’re supplying farmers with diesel and the general public with heating oil. It is a wide ranging business now but all family owned.”
Ken now runs the business with his wife following the Michael Pearce’s retirement.
“Years ago we started a scheme to employ young students during the summer to do market research for us. One of the projects we gave the first guy was to look at how we dealt with the rising number of orchards coming in Somerset with the rise of the cider fraternity. We were being asked by our customers who were planting apple trees could we look after them? And to be honest the answer was no because we didn’t understand apple trees.
“It’s a very specialist area so from that we took on Robert Fovargue, who is a top fruit specialist. He now works across the south of England doing cider and trees in Somerset and Dorset right through to Kent where he’s doing the edible market.”
The Seed Company was launched in 2005.
Says Paul: “The son of one of Ken’s customers was at Cirencester and they wanted him to have something to do in the summer rather than work on the family farm so they asked if we could employ him.
“That’s when the bio diesel project reared up again, so he came on board to start looking at that. But the facts and figures showed it wasn’t really a goer. “But he found out about culinary rapeseed oil and work that had been done on how healthy it is and how it is becoming more popular.
“So he came to us and said ‘can I look at that?’ Over the course of that summer he started the project off and we came up with some varieties that we thought might work for culinary oil.
“We got some initial tests done on the quality of the oil health benefits and was it matching up with what the market was looking for. We got some varieties crushed, because varieties are like an olive - they produce different flavours, colour, viscosity so it wasn’t just a case of crushing anything we wanted to be very specific.”
Through blind tastings and cooking trials, it was narrowed it down to four varieties.
Paul says: “We roasted them, made sauces with them, did dipping with them and from that we got the most popular, which is the one we still use today.
“It produces a lovely golden yellow colour, it’s a nice, thick oil that clings very well. It’s got a lovely taste to it, it’s not overpowering, but there’s some very subtle tones, with a very clean taste on the palate. You’re not left thinking ‘my mouth’s full of oil’ and its proved very versatile in both high temperature cooking, dressing and dipping oils and anything else.
“You can even use it for baking to replace butter. So if you’ve got someone who’s allergic to dairy products they can still have nice tasting cakes and things like that but by using the oil that is healthy for them.”
The whole enterprise has a very circular nature, with the company producing the seed, the local farmer growing it and then the company taking it back.
Says Ken: “That’s very much the ethos right the way through. We see our role as working with farmer. We’re not trying to sell them something.
“They know what were trying to produce, they know it’s not perhaps the highest yielding variety so we have an agreement whereby I will pay them a premium so they don’t lose out. It’s a very much a commercial arrangement but they’re prepared to support me and grow this variety which is my baby.
“I have a bee in my bonnet about the fact that we’re in the south west of England. I’m a Dorset man, generations of Dorset man. I listen in the seed trade to all the seed breeders who are based in East Anglia so I’ve spent my life being told how marvellous the East Anglian seed is and all the breeding over there. The south west really was a bit of an enclave away, so it’s become one of my things. I am looking for varieties suitable for us. We have a different climate.
“When we came to looking at the rape it was to find the variety that suited, that we could grow well here, that worked well with the culinary side of it and then working with local farmers. And when I say local I mean the two adjoining farms.
“We can crush it and bottle it here on site so food miles and the green elements are kept well under control.”
Initially, marketing for the oil was carried out by the company itself, with Paul and Ken donning aprons at Fortnum and Masons at one point to demonstrate the oil’s versatility.
Says Paul: “We weren’t sure how the market was going to react to this product. Everyone knew about olive oil and when you say about rape oil people say ‘oh yes, those yellow field, they make me sneeze.’
We spent a lot of the last two years trying to educate people about the good things about rape seed oil.”
Says Ken: “We’re trying to keep very much to farm shops, farmers’ markets, local delis, specialist food retailers rather than particularly charging straight into the supermarket.
“We want to have a more widely-based product range rather than be beholden to a supermarket.”
The Dorset Seed Company is looking at doing other collaborations with other Dorset people.
Says Ken: “We have got a lot of great producers, be it farmers, the likes of Olives et Al, Moores. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been a fantastic exponent of rapeseed oil.”
For more information go to http://www.pearceseeds.co.uk/
First published by The Marshwood Vale Magazine May 2009
from an interview on Farm Radio