A chef who has cooked for the Queen, along with sporting, Hollywood and political royalty, is helping a Welsh food firm grow.
Colin Gray, former President of the Culinary Association of Wales, has teamed up with the producers of Blodyn Aur, an extra virgin oil made from Welsh-grown crops, on a new range of dressings.
They are now expecting a surge in sales – with the initial batch of 400 bottles snapped up by foodies in just one weekend.
Blodyn Aur already produces more than 35,000 bottles every year of its golden rapeseed oil, which is cold-pressed on the Conwy farm of Llŷr Jones, using bee-friendly crops grown across North Wales.
Colin, who runs award-winning Caerphilly company Capital Cuisine, is a long-time fan of the oil and regularly uses it in dishes at events, such as a recent fund-raising dinner for 700 with the Scarlets.
He found customers loved his dressings made from Blodyn Aur oils, which are served up at pubs and restaurants across the UK through Capital Cuisine’s food supply contracts. So Colin has gone into production with Llŷr to make a new range of dressings for sale at retail outlets – balsamic vinegar, beetroot and thyme plus honey and mustard.
Llŷr expects the new addition to the Blodyn Aur range will increase output and attract new customers for the oil, which is additive and preservative free.
Blodyn Aur’s products are already on sale at Sainsbury’s and Asda along with farm shops, delis and independent retail outlets around the UK. The extra-virgin golden oil, produced using the farm’s own mini hydro-electric power station, offers health benefits thanks to its high levels of omega-3 and vitamin E, and low level of saturated fats.
Llŷr, from Derwydd farm in the village of Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr high in the North Wales hills near the Clocaenog Forest, founded Blodyn Aur – which means Golden Flower in Welsh – with farming colleagues Bryn Jones and Medwyn Roberts.
He said: “Our rapeseed oil is getting more and more popular, and we have already added a range of flavoured oils, including Welsh oak smoked, chilli and garlic.
“However, we realised that there was a wider market of home cooks who would be interested in ready-made dressings, which are quick and easy to use for salads or to flavour dishes such as cous cous and other grains.
“Together with Colin we tried out a variety of different dressings and got a great response from everybody who tasted them. We have settled on ones that Colin and our retail partners tell us that there is a demand for – and which we like the taste of.
“I personally like the beetroot and thyme one, while my colleague Geraint preferred the honey and mustard. Everybody voted the balsamic mix a winner.
“Chefs and home cooks prefer Blodyn Aur as rapeseed oil has about half the saturated fat found in olive oil and a particularly high flash point, meaning it can handle high temperatures without blazing. This makes it a very versatile oil, perfect for salad dressings, frying and roasting potatoes or meat. It really is a lovely ingredient to cook with.
“We are very proud that we are a company that’s firmly based in Wales – I grow around 35 acres of rape here on the farm, plus we have farms growing for us near Ruthin, Mold and Flint. Our vision is to have a bottle of Blodyn Aur on all kitchen worktops in Wales.
“So it was important to us that we worked with a Welsh company to produce the new varieties of dressings, and we are delighted to be working with Colin and his team at Capital Cuisine.”
Colin, who runs the company with his sons Daniel and Stuart plus son-in-law Dewi at their base in Bedwas near Caerphilly, also uses Blodyn Aur oils when creating dishes for pop-up restaurants at major open-air events such as the Hay Festival, the National Eisteddfod, Urdd and Royal Welsh Show.
The chef, who has picked up Great Taste and True Taste of Wales awards for his creations, has cooked for the Queen four times – when she visited the National Assembly for Wales – plus Hollywood actor Catherine Zeta Jones, other celebrities and sports stars.
The former vice-captain of the Welsh Culinary Team, Colin is also a World Association of Chefs judge, food lecturer, and consultant to the Welsh Assembly Government, plus mentors the cream of the culinary across the UK.
He said: “I was impressed with Blodyn Aur when I started using the oil as it is very versatile. We use it in dishes and dressings that Capital Cuisine supplies to a wide range of pubs and restaurants around the UK, and the dressings especially proved to be very popular.
“It was a natural step to begin working with Blodyn Aur on the new range of dressings – we have found the beetroot to be very popular as people love the colour. The first batch of 400 bottles of dressings, across the range, sold out at the Conwy Food feast so we know there’s a big demand for them. People really loved the taste.”
The increased output of oil will also have a spin-off for the farming world – as the rapeseed husk residue from pressings is turned into pellets. This high-protein feed, known as rapemeal, is fed to hill cattle and sheep, said Llŷr.
“The first batch of dressings are made from the 2016 crop, as we are just about to start pressing the 2017 harvest. The taste can change, depending on the crop – the fields where it was grown, the soil and the variety of seeds.
“The skill comes from how it is pressed and the pressure, to ensure we have excellent, reliable quality all the way through.
“I am expecting the 2017 press to be good – there was heat in June and again in August to help ripen the seeds. It wasn’t a bumper year but the quality will be good.
“We harvest the seed in August and then dry it out before cleaning it and then putting it through our press, which is German-made. It is micro filtered three times and that’s what gives the rich, nutty taste.
“Every tonne creates around 330 litres of oil and 660kg of seed husks that makes excellent high-protein rapemeal for the farm. Initially I was looking use the rapeseed as biofuel, and then to make a low-cost high protein food for our herd of 60 beef cattle, which are Aberdeen Angus crossed with Limousin. We also feed the pellets to our 1,500 Welsh Mule ewes as needed, and sell onto other farmers.
“However, we realised that the future was in the food market – it was so good that we decided to concentrate on that. It is an excellent product because it is tasty, it has a hazelnut like taste, and it’s even the oil of choice by a growing number of dietitians
“The farm and the machinery for sorting and pressing the seeds are powered by a 24kw hydro-electric plant, which uses the Nant Derwydd that runs through the farm – so though the oil is golden in colour it is very green in its production.
“Also, for the farmers who grow crops for us, it’s an excellent way of easily enriching their soil. Rapeseed is a brassica, part of the cabbage family, which replenishes the soil so if they plant the field with a cereal crop the following year they will get a higher yield – and they can use the same machinery for harvesting.”
For more details on Blodyn Aur and the new dressings visit www.madryn.co.uk