Oil that gets the chef’s kiss

Enterprise: BLOCK 275

What they offer: This WA couple grow only GM-free canola on their property, don’t use heat or solvents, and don’t bleach or deodorise their product.

Fiona Mann and her husband, Liam, both come from farming backgrounds and began their operation at Midoxgate farm in WA in 2015. Considered small, compared with many of its neighbours – the property is 678 hectares – Fiona and Liam decided to try to offset some of the challenges of not having purchasing power from scale by using their small size to their advantage.

“Our research told us that consumers wanted to know where their food came from, and were particularly supportive of local farmers that could produce a paddock-to-plate ingredient,” Fiona explains. “With provenance as our driver, we decided to create a single-origin product that had full paddock traceability.”

Although cold-pressed canola oil was not readily available in WA as a retail product, the couple had looked into such a venture in Liam’s native Scotland and were confident it could be successful here. So, they set about developing a brand, and began producing, packaging and marketing the product.

“Our research told us that consumers wanted to know where their food came from.”

“We started the initial stages of BLOCK 275 in 2016, with the development of a logo, and then purchased and imported the press and filter from Germany in 2017,” Fiona says. “Everything then sat idle in the shed while we tried to find the money to build our farming business and expand our agricultural contracting business. Finally, we were able to complete some further purchases, including sea containers, and after some trial and error, and labelling decisions, we launched our 500-millilitre product in October 2020.”

Sustainability is at the very heart of every process in the production of Fiona and Liam’s canola oil. They grow only GM-free canola on their property and, unlike the majority of larger commercial producers, they don’t use heat or solvents, and don’t bleach or deodorise their product. “These methods are used to maximise the yield of the oil from the seed, so we forego quantity to ensure quality,” Fiona explains. “We also have a zero-waste system, in which the by-product of our production process – canola meal – goes to a local beef producer who uses it to finish his cattle. Finally, we also package our product in dark glass and tins to both protect the quality of the oil and reduce the use of plastic.”

The product of all the work Fiona and Liam put in is a vibrant yellow canola oil that is nutty on the palate. It has a smoke point of 212° that makes it very versatile – it can be used in anything from salad dressings to roasts, cakes to stir-frys, and in both shallow and deep frying. “It is particularly enjoyable in its virgin state, with sourdough and dukkah,” Fiona enthuses. “One customer has told me she made the most amazing mayonnaise with our oil and duck eggs, while another swears by it for his crumbed fish. Chefs tell us that they also use it as a finishing oil.”

Grateful for the support they have received from food businesses that already have a local produce focus, in both the retail and food service spaces, Fiona and Liam are keen to see more chefs embrace their product. “The feedback that we get from the top-end chefs in WA who use our product is extremely positive. I’d also like to expand interstate,” Fiona avers, adding the codicil that doing so will be a challenge because of high transport and freight costs due to their location and their current small production volumes.

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine