How a Kenyan Farm Africa project inspired a Scottish rapeseed oil business

Cullisse rapeseed oil
Cullisse rapeseed oil. Photo: Facebook/CULLISSE

Robert Mackenzie has published the story of how he was inspired to found Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil on his family’s farm in the north of Scotland in 2011.

In the account on The Staff Canteen website, he reveals that he was first inspired to start cold pressing oilseeds at Cullisse in 2006 after visiting a Farm Africa project in Kitui, located a few hours North East of Nairobi, where the community had been provided with a cold press for making sunflower oil.

He recalls how the cold pressing machine was operated by a lady called Tina who demonstrated the simplicity of the cold pressing machine by gently crushing sunflower seeds farmed by other members of the community.

Cols pressing machine
The cold pressing machine in Kitui. Photo: Cullisse

“The dark ‘crude’ oil was filtered through a simple muslin bag producing a delicious, golden oil, which could then be readily used for cooking or sold at the market, providing much needed additional income to help send eager-to-learn children to school,” Robert explains.

The simplicity of the process got Robert, who was studying law at university it Edinburgh, wondering whether it could be replicated with the rapeseed being grown at home. While studying, he kept an eye on the handful of rapeseed oil producers in England, to monitor how the market was developing.

Then came the banking crisis and the recession, and with them a dramatic fall in job opportunities within the legal profession. Robert seized the moment and headed back to the farm to set up his cold pressing business and to re-establish “Cullisse” as a name known around the world.

He began running tests on the few different varieties of rapeseed they were already growing, and carried out some taste tests before settling on the variety with the best flavour. The feedback was that their our oil was smooth and buttery, with hints of asparagus and garden peas. Although initially the were just targeting the speciality retail market the farm soon generated interest from the high-end foodservice sector.

Rapeseed growing in Scotland
Rapeseed growing on the Cullisse Farm at Nigg. Photo: Facebook/CULLISSE

During a sampling session in the food hall at Fortnum & Mason, an ingredients purchaser for Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck Group tasted our cold pressed rapeseed oil and said that he liked it so much that he was going to take some samples for his chefs to try.

The response they received was resoundingly positive leading them to getting a listing with London and South of England distributor, Woods Foodservice, who have subsequently managed to successfully introduce Cullisse to many of the country’s best restaurants.

Nearly seven years on, the company’s cold pressed rapeseed oil is sold as far away as Vancouver, Stockholm and Singapore.

Robert concludes his article by saying he is immensely grateful for the opportunities that have come his way over the past few years, particularly for having witnessed the cold pressing of sunflower seeds at the Farm Africa project in Kenya.

To give something back to the people who inspired his farm diversification, for every litre of Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil sold, his company will donate 20p to Farm Africa “to help in some small way towards lifting rural Africans out of poverty for good.”

To find your nearest stockist, check out the interactive map on the Cullisse website.