In this column, Spoonful for the Pantry, we explore artisans who are creating high-quality and inventive food products that come in bottles and jars. From new types of cooking oil to decadent dessert sauces, these delectable items will make your pantry the envy of all the other cupboards. This month, meet Oliver Farm, a small operation in Georgia making amazing, cold-pressed cooking oils.
When Clay Oliver and his siblings took over his family’s farm in Pitts, Georgia, in 2008, he never suspected that he’d soon be the inventor of the next hot trend in Southern gastronomy. But when his father’s death that spring coincided with high fuel prices, he inherited new responsibilities and worries, and started looking at new ideas to increase the farm’s profits and relevance.
For more than a century, the Oliver family has been growing cotton, peanuts, soybeans, grains, and other row crops at their Oliver Farm. Clay Oliver’s first idea was to grow the fuel he needed to operate farm equipment in the form of biofuels. As he researched this option, however, he was advised to instead make culinary oil, a value-added product that would bring in more income to use for fuel.
By 2010, fuel prices had dropped but Oliver’s imagination was ignited. He wanted to make cooking oil out of the crops his family had grown for generations. In 2012, he saw some local farmers making high-end olive oil. “I said, ‘I want to do something similar but I am going to use things we already grow here,’” he remembers.
That fall, he bought a press and began experimenting. He started with sunflowers, then moved on to pecans and peanuts. By the following January, after much trial and error, he had begun bottling and selling these oils at farmers markets.
The peanut oil, cold-pressed from extremely fresh, raw peanuts instead of made using high heat on older nuts, quickly attracted the attention of prominent regional chefs. Culinary luminaries like Sean Brock of Charleston’s Husk, Steven Satterfield of Atlanta’s Miller Union, and Philip Krajeck of Nashville’s Rolf and Daughters began seeking the oil out, referring to it as “green peanut oil” due to its bright, fresh taste.
A new culinary star was born. After earning accolades in Garden & Gun magazine and winning a Good Food Award in 2016, the oil and its creator picked up national news coverage and helped chefs impress the likes of Beyoncé.
While the oil has become particularly popular among devotees of Southern food, it can be used in myriad ways in all types of cuisines. Notably, this type of cold-pressed peanut oil has long been popular in China.
“The thing about oils is they’re versatile, especially these cold-pressed oils with the flavors that they have,” says Clay. “You can use it to season or add the flavor to any dish. With the peanut, we hear a lot of people saying they do Thai food or Asian stir fries.”
But of course traditional American fare can also benefit from green peanut oil’s homegrown flavor. Clay remembers chef Steven Satterfield drizzling it over a baked butternut squash: “I’m not one for eating much butternut squash, but I tore it up.”
Aside from farmers markets and a handful of stores around the country, the best place to buy the oil is online through Oliver Farm’s website.
While chefs and home cooks all over the country embrace his special oil, Clay Oliver is amazed at the ways his novel enterprise has enriched his life. His wife quit her job as a teacher to help with the business full-time. He has met culinary all-stars “at the top of their game.” He took his two daughters to San Francisco to see him accept his Good Food Award, a fish-out-of-water experience that he described as “one of those Griswold family vacations.” (He adds: “We had a blast.”)
Plus, there’s the joy of witnessing inspiration manifest: “Seeing a dream you come up with and watching it not just happen but be successful on several levels…I’m humbled and amazed and thankful.”
With this oil in the pantry, so are we.
Ginger Peanut Vinaigrette
Recipe courtesy of Oliver Farm
Total Cooking Time: 5 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 5 minutes
Photo of Clay Oliver in field by Valerie Oliver – Photo of peanut oil bottles by LEM AG – Photo of measuring spoons by Cathie Berrey-Green