Scottish rapeseed oil producer inspired by Kenyan farmer

Farm  Africa

Farm Africa

Premium Supplier 21st March 2018

Scottish rapeseed oil producer inspired by Kenyan farmer

In 2011 I founded Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil on my family’s farm in the north of Scotland, and nearly seven years on our cold pressed rapeseed oil is sold as far away as Vancouver, Stockholm and Singapore.

I was first inspired to start cold pressing oilseeds at Cullisse after visiting a Farm Africa project in Kitui, Kenya, where the community had been provided with a cold press for making sunflower oil.

The cold pressing machine was operated by a lady called Tina who demonstrated the simplicity of the cold pressing machine by gently crushing sunflower seeds farmed by other members of the community. The dark ‘crude’ oil was filtered through a simple muslin bag producing a delicious, golden oil, which could then be readily used for cooking or sold at the market, providing much needed additional income to help send eager-to-learn children to school.

It was such a simple process and it got me wondering whether we could do this with the rapeseed being grown at home. At this time I was studying law at university in Edinburgh, but there was a handful of rapeseed oil producers in England, which I kept an eye on to see how the market was developing, and once a couple of Scottish producers came on the scene I had that feeling of, “I’m going to kick myself if this industry takes off and I haven’t given it a shot!”

And then, as if on cue, the financial crisis hit and my budding legal career hit the buffers somewhat. Rather than feel despondent I actually saw it as the perfect opportunity to return to the family farm and give my diversification idea a shot.

We were already growing a few different varieties of rapeseed, so we were able to carry out some taste tests and settled on the variety with the best flavour. We kept being told that our oil was smooth and buttery, with hints of asparagus and garden peas. Although initially just targeting the speciality retail market we were soon receiving interest from the high-end foodservice sector as well.

The most exciting thing that happened early on was that on one occasion when doing a sampling session in the food hall at Fortnum & Mason, a gentleman – who it turns out was an ingredients purchaser for Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Group – tasted our cold pressed rapeseed oil and said that he liked it so much that he was going to take some samples for his chefs to try. We received a resoundingly positive response and this led to us getting a listing with London and South of England distributor, Woods Foodservice, who has since managed to successfully introduce Cullisse to many of the country’s best restaurants.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunities that have come my way over the past few years, particularly for having witnessed the cold pressing of sunflower seeds at the Farm Africa project in Kenya. I, therefore, wanted to give something back to the people who gave me the inspiration for my farm diversification, and so for every litre of Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil sold, we donate 20p to Farm Africa to help in some small way towards lifting rural Africans out of poverty for good.

Robert Mackenzie, Founder, Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil