There is an active revival of stone milling underway, driven by a demand for (and desire to provide) wholesome, non-commodity flours, says Paul Lebeau.
When we think of Real Bread, we think of a food that makes the greatest possible use of the goodness nature packs into grains. Even when grains are ground into wholemeal flour, however, they start losing their goodness right away through oxidation. As noted by Professor Andrew Ross in the March-April 2018 issue of Cereal Foods World, in terms of nutritional value and baking characteristics, the best time to make wholemeal flour into dough is immediately after it has been milled.
Industrial loaf makers typically use highly-refined flours, from which much of the natural goodness has been extracted or lost. This means that the use of freshly-milled flour is a significant differentiator for a Real Bread bakery, one that customers can grasp easily. Beyond this, the work of the bakers, breeders, farmers, and millers involved is bringing about great changes in consumer perception, helping people to understand that:
These can be transformed to flour in their entirety at home, just-in-time for baking, using small-scale equipment, such as mills produced by Mockmill. Wholemeal flour made just-in-time has all the freshness, flavour and nutrition that nature has to offer. Additionally, the ability to reduce practically any dry food to a flour or meal increases the possibilities for creating bread and other baked products even further.
While industrial loaf factories might struggle with just-in-time milling, artisan bakeries and home bakers can find it easier. The practice is catching on fast, as evidenced by enthusiasts sharing their experiences via social media. As Andrew Wilkinson of Gilchesters in Northumberland told me: “We are certainly getting more enquiries for our small grain bags from domestic customers.”
‘Home-scale mills are also great for small bakeries'
Buying, installing, and operating a stone flour mill has been out of the question for most home bakers in the past, and is a major step even for a bakery. But today, those wishing to include freshly-milled flour in their bread are discovering that there are new tools available, tools that take up little space on the countertop, make beautiful flour quickly and very simply, and that are affordable even for families on modest budgets. These home-scale mills are also great for small bakeries and restaurants, allowing them to take advantage of the full variety of whole grains, beans, lentils and peas, not to mention spices.
Prominent figures in the UK are joining the internationally-recognised chefs and bakers like America’s Dan Barber and Ellen King who have discovered how an affordable table-top mill designed for home use opens new possibilities and supports their agendas for fixing the world’s food system. These are local bakers like James Thorn of Wild Bread Bakehouse (Faversham, Kent) and Kate Hamblin of Hamblin Bread (Oxford); baking teachers Emmanuel Hadjiandreou and Nelson Mansfield; plant breeders John Letts and Ed Dickin; organic farmers Mark Lea and David Wilson; millers Andrew and Sybille Wilkinson; and organic food champions like Hodmedod’s Josiah Meldrum.
“It’s simple”, says James Thorn, “The empowerment of making one’s own bread is amplified when you mill your own flour. You’re even more in control, and you know that you’ll be making the most flavourful, nutritious loaf you can. If you’re using locally and organically grown grains, then you’re helping society to take a great step toward sustainability and improving the environment. Josiah Meldrum adds, “We’re very impressed with the way a small, designed-for-consumers tool makes gives a new dimension to cooking with the fresh-dried foods we promote.”
Of course, bakers who wish to mill their own grains need a source for those grains, which are not readily available at the local supermarket. This creates a market for another group of artisans: farmers who are reviving the cultivation of non-commodity grains, including varieties that have not been grown for decades and have almost been lost. Breeder Ed Dickin says: “As a farmer, [the advent of small-scale milling] is potentially very exciting as it opens a way to market small quantities of grain directly to the consumer. At present the need to fill a 29 tonne lorry load restricts us to growing commodity varieties.”
Selected not for the requirements of the industrial milling and baking companies, but rather for their flavour, nutritional profiles and suitability for local growing conditions, these heritage grains give the Real Bread made with them special characteristics that set it apart.
Of course, as a small-scale miller, you’ll have to be ready to enjoy your search for grains to mill. These are not always readily found, even in Real Bread circles. Gilchesters and other specialty online shops such as Hodmedod’s and Bakery Bits carry grains for milling. So do farms like Brow Farms in Lancashire. Another suggestion is to ask nicely at a wind or water-powered flour mill, such as members of the Traditional Cornmillers Guild.
‘You’ll meet fascinating and dedicated people’
Even if we’re a long way from having whole grains in packages on the shelves of UK supermarkets, you can help bring this about by showing your interest in having them available. In so doing, you’ll be part of an important movement, which is the effort to get greater availability of a wider variety of whole grains and the absolute most out of their goodness. You’ll meet fascinating and dedicated people who are delighted to serve your needs. You may well also end up wondering how you ever got along without the ability to make your own flour, as and when you need it, from grains you have carefully chosen yourself.
Originally published in True Loaf magazine issue 39, April 2019