In our book, any morning when we get to taste-test potatoes that were just fried in regionally-sourced, non-GMO canola oil that's providing both local food and renewable energy is a good morning. Even on a Monday.
This Monday, we got to co-host a Fry Party where oils pressed from non-GMO, expeller-pressed canola grown in the Southeast faced off against generic grocery-store canola oil in a blind taste taste test. Local chefs, farmers, foodies, green business advocates, and media were on hand to judge the competing oils in the categories of frying potatoes, dipping bread, and drizzled over baby greens (all local ingredients—thanks to Full Sun Farm and Wake Robin Farm Breads)
The Fry Party, held at Blue Ridge Food Ventures' facilities on the AB Tech Enka Campus, was the debut event for oils produced through the new Field to Fryer to Fuel (F3) program that Blue Ridge Biofuels is leading in partnership with AdvantageWest.
Here's how it works: Farmers grow oil-rich canola seeds. At Blue Ridge Biofuels, we're in charge of getting those crops to processors who convert it into all-natural cooking oil. Then, local chefs use the oil to make make delicious fritters, French fries, samosas, doughnuts, you name it. After they cook the food, the used fryer oil comes back to us at Blue Ridge Biofuels, and we convert it into biodiesel. Some of that biodiesel goes into home heating oil, some goes into fuel for diesel vehicles, and some of it goes to power off-road equipment. Some of it even goes back to run the tractors at the farms that grew the canola in the first place.
We think that's a pretty great example of a closed energy loop–and it benefits our local economy at every step of the way.
Scott Hamilton, the president of AdvantageWest, pointed out a few of the many ways that F3 can strengthen our local economy. With a growing season from September to July, canola is a viable winter crop that generates income from farm fields that would otherwise be lying fallow. And tourists will be drawn to gorgeous fields of bright yellow blossoms in the spring, the way they're drawn to the bright colored mountains during leaf season.
F3 also connects farmers with a stronger market for their oil crops, as opposed to selling them directly for biofuels. This imporant value-added step completely removes us from the food vs. fuel debate and the canola oil still goes into biodiesel in the end.
Some of the amazing partners in attendance were Katie Button from Curate and Rosetta Star from Rosetta's Kitchen, the first adopters of the oil, as well as Joe Scully of Chestnut, another big supporter. Mark Rosentstein, director of Green Opportunities Kitchen Ready program, was our food maestro for the event. Mountain Food Products is handling sales of Southeastern canola oil for our restaurants clients (reach them at 828-255-7630). And we plan on becoming locally-certified though Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.
The oils that we debuted at the Fry Party are cold-pressed rather than chemically extracted, and they're free of GMO ingredients.The result is a flavor that some chefs suggested could stand alongside olive oil as an option for frying, dipping, and dressing. So, who won? The far and away favorite was a dark, minimally processed oil with an amber color and rich flavor, that was grown and pressed right here in Western North Carolina. Way to go, Oil #3!