eatdrinkTC is excited to be able to share this article by Bill Palladino of Taste the Local Difference with you. Taste the Local Difference and partner organizations are working towards 20% of our region’s food being supplied by local growers and food entrepreneurs by the year 2020. If we achieve this goal, northwest Michigan will be the first region in the country to do so and the economic results will fundamentally change the conversation about the power of buying local.
By Bill Palladino
“Since oils have the most aroma and nutrients when they are fresh, cold-pressed and unrefined, it helps to grow and press them locally. But it turns out, some of the crops we don’t even grow anymore close by—even though we could. We’ve lost the knowledge and infrastructure.”
– Christoph Milz
The first evidence of humans pressing nuts and seeds for their oil dates back thousands of years to about 3000 B.C. Seed and nut oils were important sources of dietary fat for many cultures around the world. This was especially significant for cultures that forbid the consumption of animal-derived fats or otherwise didn’t have readily available sources for them.
Since then we’ve been addicted to using vegetable oils in our foods in both raw and cooked forms. We dare you to venture out into the foodie Mecca that is northern Michigan and find dishes prepared without such oils. It’s a rarity.
I first met Christoph Milz after he called me last winter. He asked me, in his lilting Germanic accent, if I knew any farmers growing nuts and seeds. He wanted to make culinary oils from locally grown crops. Milz says, “Culinary oils can be much more flavorful and interesting than we are used to, and they support a healthy diet.”
Christoph went on to tell me of his love for making oil, but not just any oil mind you. “My interest started in the fall of 2010 when I discovered at a farmers market in Germany how vibrant, flavorful and intense flax-seed oil can taste when it comes straight from the press,” he said. The oils he speaks of are unfamiliar cousins to the cooking oils you’ll find on most grocers’ shelves. His tender oils are the ritual ancestors of olive, corn, canola, grape, and peanut oils. It was already sounding delicious.
A few weeks later, I used this newsletter to ask for a show of hands from area farmers if they had oil-seed crops or nut tree plantings. Milz was interested in starting collaborative relationships with farmers to experiment with some innovative products for the kitchen. But right away an issue arose. It’s much like our story a few weeks ago about the huge knowledge-gap in animal protein processing skills. There’s a rich history of oil production in this region, but we’ve lost most of the know-how that we were once proud of.
Milz laments this loss. “Since oils have the most aroma and nutrients when they are fresh, cold-pressed and unrefined, it helps to grow and press them locally. But it turns out, some of the crops we don’t even grow anymore close by—even though we could. We’ve lost the knowledge and infrastructure.”
Milz’s Pressmeister Oils creates a product that is far removed from the gelatinous stuff that conjures up French fries and chicken tenders in your child’s fast food fantasies. Christoph’s meticulously expressed products better resemble concentrated extracts, with distinctly unique characteristics of the original seeds and nuts.
“When we start to explore possibilities with culinary oils from various seeds and nuts, we realize very quickly that we ignore a whole variety of interesting oils,” Christoph said.
I first tasted one of his early projects in the spring of 2013. Milz asked me to stick out my tongue, and he took an apothecary dropper and deposited one minuscule droplet of fine oil at its tip. “Wait a moment.” he said. “You should first taste something slightly tart; but now, do you taste the flavor of the plant itself?” And sure enough, in the subtlest of ways, the oil was recreating the essence of the original fruit from whence it came. The longer I waited the more intense it became, filling my mouth, lingering there. If you can imagine a very high quality olive oil infused with some very expensive black truffles, you’d be starting to understand.
These oils are designed to light up your taste buds, and let you experience oils in a whole new way. While you could certainly use them to pour over your salad greens or stir-fry veggies in your wok, the clarity of flavor will beg for you to find more creative uses.
Since we first met, Milz has worked diligently to source the highest-quality seeds and nuts. His goal is eventually to create oils from locally grown products, but the market is simply not available yet. While it’s a challenge to do this, he seems committed to a grander notion of not just selling another commodity.
“I set out to create a new category. One could say, one of the last unexplored specialty food categories in the new ‘American Foodie Age.’”
When asked what makes this oil so special, he replies, “Seeds and nuts have between 5-50% oil content. I use an expeller to cold-press that oil out. It’s the most natural product it can be. No distillation, reduction, hexane, heating, refining, bleaching, mixing or any of that. It is just expelled oil that is supremely flavorful because the expeller press does not alter the molecular structure.”
He went on to describe some of the practical challenges of the trade.
“Artisanal oil milling in the U.S. today is where local coffee roasters were 30 years ago. The supply chain does not exist. The most obvious ingredients are hard to come by, or impossible to source the way consumers would expect it. You can’t just go on a website and order ingredients and equipment as you need it, or easily find training on how to run production. I am hoping to contract with local farmers for special seeds; building the ideal supply-chain will take time and constantly evolve. “
Christoph debuted his new line of oils last Saturday at the Traverse City Indoor Farmers Market at The Village Mercado. He’ll be back there this Saturday with fresh oils and a holiday gift variety package – click through to the Local Difference blog for an exclusive coupon offering $5 off on his oils! If you can’t make it to see Christoph’s products at the Village Farmer’s Market this Saturday in Traverse City, you can look him up on his website at pressmeister-oils.com.