Friday, October 23, 2009

The Mill

So it’s wheat planting time here in North Carolina. Although most of the planting will be soft wheat, hard (bread) wheat will be sown as well. This year’s harvest of two varieties of organic hard wheat grown in Moore Co, NC (and planted this time last year), received overwhelmingly positive feedback in both flavor and performance by the pilot group of bakeries from the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project (NCOBFP) (see past blog entries). These varieties, NuEast and Appalachian White, were bred and developed for production in the eastern United States by USDA-ARS plant pathologist and geneticist Dr David Marshall, research leader of the Plant Sciences Research Unit in Raleigh, NC. The next step will be taking the wheat from fifty-foot test plots into the field. Although most of Dr Marshall’s wheat is going to seedsman to grow out for seed, he has provided organic grower Kenny Haines with two acres worth of seed of each variety, to grow for the bakers.
But how do we go from grain to flour? NCOBFP received funding to lay the groundwork for a viable bread wheat economy in North Carolina. I had this idea that if we organized the many bakeries of western NC into one buyers unit, we would become a formidable voice of bakers and a significant buyer of NC grain. In theory, everyone loved the idea. But could North Carolina really produce quality bread wheat? My bakery was one of only a few bakeries in western NC milling its own grain. How are we to go, on a larger scale than my little bakery, from grain to flour?
Rewind a bit. Alan Scott (whom I had apprenticed with 15 years ago, milling our grain to flour and baking our old world flemish naturally leavened breads in a wood-fired brick oven that Alan designed and built himself) called me from Tasmania last year. He called to tell me what he had set in motion during the short amount of time-- two or three years tops-- since he had moved back to Australia. He was organizing bakers and he had purchased a 48" diameter stone-burr Osttiroller gristmill with sifters; in an email he wrote me that his "family in the district has recently built a gigantic dam for water to irrigate with pivots, enough for 30,000 acres! It is shared by 12 farmers who have all suffered from global warming but now will put them in a very favorable position to grow grain crops." He asked that I come to Tasmania and give workshops on desem baking, but I am a mother and cannot go. Yet he planted a seed. I shifted my focus onto what was stewing in North Carolina in regards to potential bread wheat production. And so we got funded, and then Alan died of congestive heart failure.
I got a call from Lila, Alan's daughter, asking if our project was interested in Alan's mill. Yes, we want to do this, but the bakers are not yet totally convinced about NC wheat. And then they tried the wheat. It was freshly milled in my little 12" diameter stone burr Jansen gristmill. The bakers loved the flour-- the freshness, the quality, the flavor, and performance. Dr Marshall was thrilled for the feedback. A mill devoted to NC grains made sense to everyone. A re-budget request to pay freight to bring Alan's mill to NC was approved. The estate of Alan Scott, is providing our project with the use of his 48” diameter stone-burr Osttiroller gristmill with sifters for one year as a test mill. It was Alan’s work that inspired me to do the work of linking the farmer, miller, and baker in North Carolina. It seems the appropriate measure, a bittersweet story, for Alan's mill to be used to inspire growers to plant wheat and bakers to buy local grain in North Carolina.
This trial use of a gristmill with sifters will enable the bakers to work with NC wheat on a production level, figuring out product, level of extraction, and grains (beyond hard wheat) that can be milled. The mill will be located in western NC, amid a high concentration of artisan bakeries and amongst the pilot group of seven bakeries. The pilot group has agreed that with each new batch of flour, they will provide feedback as to how they used the flour, its performance, their likes and dislikes etc. The goals of working with the mill for the year are to come up with product and work out operational logistics. The end goal is a micro milling facility devoted to organic NC grains. After one year of using the mill, if the results from this experiment are positive, expect to see a campaign launched to raise money to pay the Scott family for the purchase of the mill.

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