Main image: Miss Mels Photography
Peter McCloskey, founder of Collar of Gold, chats to Conor Forrest about how his natural Irish vegetable oil is making waves.
For the most part, chefs have a choice of one of two edible oils – those that are chemically extracted and chemically refined (e.g. regular cooking oils), and those extracted using physical processes (cold-pressed oils and their extra-virgin equivalents). The latter contain all of the naturally-occurring smells, taste and colour inherent in the oil and are usually pretty unstable for hot applications – for example, olive oil smokes around 190 degrees. The former see that smell, taste and colour removed during the refining process but can deteriorate under heat quite quickly and impart a taste of gone off oil onto the food.
Collar of Gold, however, strikes a fine balance between the two. Produced in Drogheda, it’s a physically extracted rapeseed oil that lasts longer under heat and can also be used in cold applications; a natural vegetable oil that doesn’t imprint on the food. According to founder Peter McCloskey, it’s processed by cold-pressing, with water vapour used to remove the inherent strong taste.
“For many people, a fried egg coming off the pan with Collar of Gold is a revelation… the first time they’ve actually tasted the egg and not the oil,” he explains. “Collar of Gold is produced [without] using any intensive chemical or heat processes… I have developed and protected a technology that uses only water vapour to remove all of the strong smell, taste and colour. As a result, it hasn’t been terminally damaged or chemically damaged. It retains its naturally-occurring lecithins and its fatty acid chains are unbroken. And what that means in plain English is that it makes the most extraordinary emulsifications, both hot and cold emulsifications.”
BUILDING A BUSINESS
McCloskey’s background is in the food business – his family owns the Boyne Valley Group based in Drogheda. In search of something new, McCloskey began looking for a niche food product that could be made from ingredients produced in Ireland (the rapeseed is grown in Kildare and Wicklow). “I wanted it to be something that would be entirely natural, that would fully play to Ireland’s high-quality food provenance,” he tells me. “I wanted it to be something that was very, very widely used. And I also wanted to do something that had a very high capital entry cost. I basically found that there are only two food staples not manufactured in Ireland, both of which we use in vast quantities. One is sugar and one is vegetable oil.”
Hitting on the idea of a light rapeseed oil, McCloskey spent over a year researching in preparation, travelling to academic institutions in Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany, and consulting various academic library repositories in Great Britain and mainland Europe. Then, over a period of time, he developed and improved the technology behind the product, registering and protecting it in 37 countries. Next up – the name. It had to be something that would encapsulate everything the product stands for, highlighting its purity, quality and homegrown status. “I wanted something that could be instantly recognisable as an iconic Irish image. I thought about round towers and high crosses and things like that,” says McCloskey.
Most academics would agree that Ireland has among the finest collections of prehistoric gold in the world. If you pay a visit to the National Museum in Dublin you’ll see a variety of lunulae (gold collars shaped like a crescent moon) and gorget (neck pieces ending in large circular plates). One of the most famous is the Gleninsheen Gorget, a gold collar discovered behind a rock fissure in the Burren in 1932. Dating back to between 700 and 800BC, it was bent in two before being seemingly hidden away for safekeeping, though it survived the millennia in one piece. For McCloskey, inspiration had struck.
“We don’t know a lot about the people who made these. We know they are extraordinarily fine pieces of fine art… it’s not believed that there are goldsmiths on the planet who could replicate them to that quality,” he says. “They were symbols of purity, royalty and the sun’s energy. And to me that seemed just the perfect device and connotations that I wanted the brand name to have.”
Thus far, take-up has been strong, with Collar of Gold available across the country in a variety of cash and carries, food suppliers (such as La Rousse Foods and BD Foods) and independent retailers, as well as SuperValu stores nationwide since early 2018. Chefs are warming up to its potential, with the likes of Dublin’s Patrick Guilbaud, l’Ecrivian, and Chapter One, Eastern Seaboard in Drogheda and King Sitric in Howth adding Collar of Gold to their inventory (not to mention several in the UK), recognising its purity and thermal heat stability. Of course, they’re not simply taking the company’s word for it – a taste test is an important step.
“When I’m bringing sales representatives around, introducing the product to their chef customers, I say to them beforehand ‘Watch the chef ’s eyebrows when I give [them] a teaspoon of a taste halfway through the presentation,” says McCloskey. “Of course we all have immediate expectations when you take a teaspoon of cooking oil or vegetable oil into your mouth. You expect it to heavily coat your mouth, and you expect to maybe even spit to clear it out. Whereas every time with Collar of Gold, because of its purity and because of its ease of emulsification, it dissipates in the mouth.”
The product has gone through more stringent tests too. Michael McNamara, Lecturer in Culinary Arts with Dundalk Institute of Technology, devised a series of side-by-side tests to examine its effectiveness. The first saw plain potato wedges cooked in an extremely hot oven. Those cooked in regular cooking oil came out in uneven colours with an ‘unpleasant flavour typical of overused and cooked-out oil’. The batch cooked in Collar of Gold resulted in an even golden brown colour, with the smell and taste of caramelised potato starch. Similarly positive results were reached in other uses – Collar of Gold came out on top when cooking pancakes in hot pans (superior taste noted), deep-frying doughnuts (10 batches without an oil change), making mayonnaise at room temperature (no signs of cracking in the mixture), and in a variety of baked goods where it produced ‘perfect results that were similar to what would be expected from a good-quality butter’. Its longevity is important – whereas regular cooking oil typically breaks down after four hours when used at 170 degrees, Collar of Gold can last for up to 20 hours.
“It basically redefines the oil category,” McCloskey tells me. “I have a customer in London, for example, and he [runs] a posh fish and chip chain. He decided that he was going to use Collar of Gold with his potatoes, his chips. And his sales of chips have increased by 35 per cent. People think he’s using and sourcing some super-magical potato and he won’t tell them the real reason. And the reason is that they’re now just tasting potato and caramelised potato starch rather than oil that is struggling to cope with the heat. It’s really a very good story.”