The Colman name might be synonymous with mustard, but the family has turned its tastes to another robust flavour – peppermint.
Summerdown in north Hampshire grows and distils its own Black Mitcham peppermint, and uses this pure essential oil to create award-winning products from chocolates and teas to diffusers and bath soaks. It is also one of a handful of farms in the country to be B-Corp certified for its social and environmental credentials.
Sir Michael Colman – a descendant of Jeremiah Colman, who founded Colman’s mustard in 1814 – embarked on a new challenge in 1995 after retiring from the previous family company. He travelled to the US in search of Black Mitcham peppermint, a notoriously challenging herb to grow and one that, 100 years before, had been native to England.
Sir Michael took a few cuttings back home and began cultivating them with the help of his farm manager, Ian Margetts. After much research, they planted a plot the size of a tennis court and now grow around 100 acres of the rare peppermint, using it in everything they make. All of the plants are related to the original cuttings taken by Sir Michael, having acclimatised to Summerdown’s environment.
The family is proud to have become “the peppermint people”, with Ian their “master of mint” and Sir Michael’s grandson, Jo Colman, passionate about promoting the taste and smell of unblended, unadulterated peppermint.
“Black Mitcham peppermint is like no other, prized for its pure, bright character,” he says. “It’s a taste that had been all but lost to England, until we brought some back from the US over three decades ago and began cultivating it ourselves.”
Many uses of mint
The mint is harvested from the fields every August and placed in cooker tubs. Some is dried to make tea, while the rest goes to the on-site distillery, where it is transformed into single-estate peppermint oil before being barrel-aged for two years to develop the flavour.
The oil is then sent to Summerdown’s chocolate manufacturing partners (the majority of the chocolate is sourced through the Cocoa Horizons project, which Summerdown believes is even better than Fairtrade), as well as its body, bath and home partners in England.
The products head back to the farm, where the team despatches them from the on-site storehouse to be sold in more than 1,000 independent shops, food halls, delis and farm shops throughout the UK and across the world, from Sydney to Seattle. In all, around 30% of the product is sent abroad.
The chocolates and teas have won Great Taste Awards, while the most popular item is the first product they developed – the dark chocolate peppermint creams. Summerdown also produces other essential oils, including lavender and camomile, while its arable operations comprise of wheat, barley and oats.
Visitors can also stay at the farm in a small cluster of shepherd’s huts.
We increasingly see the need to connect people back to nature and land, and we want to play a role in that
B-Corp accreditation shows that the business meets high standards of verified performance, accountability and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.
Try Paul Hollywood's chocolate & mint roulade recipe
- 125g/4½oz dark chocolate
- 4 free-range eggs, separated
- 125g/4½oz caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
FOR THE FILLING
- 325g/11½oz icing sugar, sifted
- 100g/3½oz butter, softened
- 2 tbsp milk
- 3-4 drops peppermint flavour oil (Paul used Summerdown Mint’s pure peppermint oil)
- 2 tbsp dark chooclate chips
- Line a 24x35cm/9½x14in Swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
- Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.
- Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl. Add the cocoa powder, stir to combine until the mixture has thickened, is pale and increased in volume.
- Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff.
- Pour the melted chocolate into the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Stir until the chocolate is fully incorporated.
- Gently fold in the egg whites.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Tilt the tin so that the mixture spreads into the corners.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until firm and springy to touch.
- Once cooked, turn the roulade out onto a piece of greaseproof paper dusted with caster sugar.
- Gently remove the lining paper and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave to cool completely.
- For the filling, gradually add the icing sugar to the softened butter. Beat until all the icing sugar is incorporated. Add the Summerdown Mint oil to the milk, and then stir into the buttercream.
- Spread the filling onto the cooled roulade, leaving a 1.5cm/¾in gap at each edge. Sprinkle over the chocolate chips.
- Using the greaseproof paper to help you, roll up the roulade from one of the short ends. Don’t worry if it cracks a little. Transfer onto a serving plate.
Sustainability and conservation are at the heart of the Colmans’ work. There are miles of flourishing hedgerows and an abundance of wildlife, insects and flowers, the woodland is carefully managed and the farm is involved in various research initiatives. Even the mulchy remnants of the mint leaves aren’t wasted after the oil is extracted – they are taken back out to the fields to be spread over newly-planted crops. Where possible, Summerdown is also moving towards removing petrochemical-based plastic from its product ranges.
Jo, whose family moved to Summerdown nearly 100 years ago, says they are planning for the next 50 years to ensure the land is in better condition than when they first started farming: “While the conversation around sustainability and words associated with it may be relatively new, sustainability has always been a way of life at Summerdown.
“Biodiversity is crucial to everything we do at Summerdown and is championed by our peppermint. The team shares a holistic approach to the farm – we view every area of the farm as connected. The health of our peppermint, for example, is dependent on hedgerows and the wildlife found within them.
“We are a certified B-Corp, work with wildlife conservation charity Plantlife, are a Countryside Stewardship farm and are involved in research initiatives, such as the Woodgarston project with South East Water and Natural England.
“Our Master of Mint, Ian, has turned Summerdown into a peppermint playground for wildlife, insects and flowers. We have beehives in our mint fields, barn owls in farm buildings and every year we plant special feed crops for birds and sow wildflower seeds, encouraging new creatures to make themselves at home around the edges of our fields and woodlands."
Future plans include only working with suppliers who share the business’s values, relaunching its body, bath and home range with improved formulations and sustainable ingredients, and investing in solar and renewable energy.
Jo adds: “Keeping Summerdown’s soil as healthy as possible is a real priority for us. We need to make sure it remains as nutrient-rich as it was the day we started farming – after all, that’s the soil our peppermint originally fell for. And you can only grow the finest peppermint in the purest, most carefully nurtured soil.”