Georgia Grown Executive Chef Holly Chute introduces French chefs to Oliver Farm Pecan Oil from Georgia.
Whoever said there’s nothing new under the sun never faced the prospect of spending $400 per day on fuel to keep a cotton picker running. That was the reality that propelled Clay Oliver to begin researching alternative fuel sources for his farm machinery.
"My initial thought was to make my own fuel," he said, but his research showed that the expense of doing so would far outweigh the savings.
Food-grade oils, however, were another story. In late 2012 Oliver purchased a cold-press and processed the seeds from a crop of sunflower seeds he grew specially for the cause to produce his first batch of food-grade sunflower oil.
"As soon as we tested it that sealed the deal," he recalled. "This would not be fuel because something that good deserved to be on a plate."
In the past two years, Oliver has expanded his selection of fruit and nut oils to include pumpkin, benne, peanut and the explosively popular pecan oil made from Georgia’s signature crop.
"Georgia is one of the first producers of pecan oil thanks to Clay Oliver and his pioneer spirit to press nut and seed oils," said Holly Chute, executive chef for the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Georgia Grown program.
Beginning with the receipt of the Good Food Award in January, 2015 has turned out to be a pivotal year in Oliver’s new endeavor.
Largely a one-man show until now, the demand for Oliver Farm oils and nut flours in general – and pecan oil in particular – has prompted Oliver’s wife, Valerie, to give up her 16-year teaching career to help him produce, package and deliver their products to some 60 retailers. They’re preparing to expand their sales to Farmers Markets this year, also.
Riding the wave of popularity foodies are lavishing on artisanal foods, Oliver hit liquid gold with his pecan oil, a relative newcomer in the cooking oil category that is particularly appealing to the healthy-eating crowd. Pecans are already certified by the American Heart Association as a Heart-Healthy food. Pecan oil, according to producers and chefs, is even healthier than olive oil, with a saturated fat content of just seven percent compared to 14 percent in olive oil.
"Being a nut oil, it is high in antioxidants and a very healthy fat," Chute said.
Because it is cold-pressed, Oliver Farm’s pecan oil retains its golden color and the distinct nutty flavor of Georgia pecans, Chute said.
With a very high smoke point of 470 degrees, pecan oil can be used for frying and also sautéing, braising and even baking.
"I love to sear fish and chicken in it then finish in the oven," Chute said. "It is also wonderful for salad dressings and substituted for shortening in hoe cakes or cornbread."
Chute is such a believer in Oliver Farm Pecan Oil, she took it on an official Georgia Grown junket to New York City – where it is now sold in select stores – and on a personal trip to France, where she presented it to French chefs who have little exposure to pecans ordinarily.
Oliver Farm is a Georgia Centennial Farm located near Pitts in Wilcox County. It was purchased in 1903 by Daniel Henderson Watson, and Oliver and his brother are the fifth generation to own and operate the place.
"I take great pride in that," Oliver said. "Through the hard times and things that happen on a farm, my family managed to hold on to it."
With a growing appreciation for his cold-pressed artisanal oils – and the burgeoning following the uber-healthy pecan oil is gaining – a hundred more years of farming success don’t seem impossible to achieve.
"So far we’ve just continued to grow," Oliver said, sounding at times as bewildered as he is proud of the farm’s success. "Starting from zero, hopefully you continue to grow. You can’t go backwards."
Learn more about Oliver Farm Artisan Oils at www.oliverfarm.com.