Find out what's been happening in the world of 42 Burners, aka our test kitchen, with our weekly series.
When's the last time you had walnut oil? Along with raspberry vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes, it hasn't been an ingredient du jour since the 1980s—but that doesn't make it any less delicious now. While olive oil is the workhorse of the test kitchen, our food editors love experimenting with other cooking oils, which is why they were excited for a visit from one of their favorite producers, La Tourangelle. The family-owned company started with an oil mill in France 150 years ago and expanded to the U.S. in 2002. Instead of exporting oil, CEO Matthieu Kohlmeyer brought the French style of oil making to Woodland, California, applying time-honored methods to local crops—not just walnuts, but also almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, and peanuts.
Each oil undergoes the same tried-and-true process: nuts are sun-dried, shelled, roasted, expeller-pressed (meaning no chemicals are involved), and passed through cotton filters. All the equipment involved, from the traditional cast-iron roasters to the old-school press, is custom-made in France. The goal is to maintain as much flavor and nutrition as possible in the oils. "It's truly an art and a science," says Kohlmeyer. "The master roaster does everything by hand and knows when the walnuts are ready to press just by the aroma."
As the food editors tasted the various nut oils, they discussed the difference between refined and unrefined oil with Kohlmeyer. When senior editor Lauryn Tyrell mentioned that there's a preconceived notion about refined oils being bad for you, Kohlmeyer explained that it really depends on the type of oil and the refining method. There isn't just one way to refine oil: some companies rely on chemicals, while others, like La Tourangelle, use steam. And while unrefined oil typically has more flavor and nutrients, refined has a role to play, too. Extra-virgin might be a must for olive oil, but unrefined versions of other oils can be prohibitively expensive because of the cost of ingredients, why is why La Tourangelle's roasted nut oils are technically blends. It's all about finding a balance that lets the flavors of the nuts shine through. Or, if you're using oil for beauty purposes, you might not want it to have a strong taste or smell, which is why La Tourangelle produces a refined sweet almond oil in addition to its roasted almond oil.
For oils outside of the nut category, Kohlmeyer traveled the world looking for like-minded partners: artisan makers committed to starting with quality ingredients, whether seeds or fruit. One of La Tourangelle's most unique offerings is pumpkin seed oil from the Styrian region of Austria, where it has long been prized as a delicacy. The oil comes from a special variety of pumpkin that's grown for its seeds, not flesh, and has a distinctive inky-green color and silky, unctuous texture. It took Lauryn back to her restaurant days, when she used to drizzle the oil atop fluke crudo. Kohlmeyer recommends using it for something much simpler: "In my house, we use pumpkin seed oil for quinoa, the way you'd use butter or olive oil to finish pasta."
In terms of popularity, it's no match for avocado oil, which is La Tourangelle's top-selling, fastest-growing product. Lauryn thought it would make a great base for homemade mayonnaise, while the rest of the team was excited about the most recent development: the avocado oil is now available in single-serve packets. Tuck one into your lunch box with a lemon wedge and say goodbye to sad desk salads forever!