Josey Baker has been playing with milling his own flour for a while now, and we finally get to taste it. Earlier this month, Baker switched to using fresh-milled rye flour in his much-loved rye loaves at The Mill on Divisadero. For the moment, the rest of the bread program is staying the same, though Baker plans to do more fresh-milling as he gets the rye routine down, and maybe even start selling fresh flour to the public.
Milling fresh flour has always been on the The Mill's agenda, evidenced by the shop's namesake machine sitting quietly in the back corner. The flour mill is a beautiful thing — light and sleek as the space it sits in. However, since the café/bakery opened nearly five months ago, the machine has gone mostly unused. But, as a former developer of science curricula, Baker is keen to experiment. And so a new mode of bread-making has entered Baker's repertoire.
During the time he's been working out the fresh milling idea and navigating the world of sourcing grain, Baker has been buying pre-milled flour from a mill in Petaluma. As it turns out, sourcing and milling your own grain is a hard thing to do. There's not much of an infrastructure set up for bakers looking to find, buy, and mill their own wheat, so the process is rather lengthy. In exploring his options, Baker is looking to forge direct-trade relationships with the possibility of securing lots of grain grown just for him. Call them "microlots," if you must. Chefs and coffee roasters work with growers in the same way, so why not bakers?
Part of what drove Baker to experiment with fresh milled flour is the same ethos of responsible sourcing that drives Bay Area food culture. Bread doesn't often find its way into the conversation around where our food comes from. As a region, we've become increasingly concerned with where our meat and vegetables originate. We demand integrity, honesty, and transparency in the food supply chain, prompting Baker to wonder why we don't think about grains the same way.
"The more unadulterated a thing is, the more you can tell the difference. And it's more nutritious. I don't understand why people wouldn't apply the same scrutiny to grains that they do our other food," he says.
It's a good point, and Baker's move towards fresh-milling may be the start of that trend. It may also catch on just because it tastes better. Of the many perks, Baker tells us freshly milled flour hedges against the off flavors that come up when the oils of a whole wheat flour grow rancid in transport. Will people be able to tell the difference? Only time will tell. Either way, we're pretty excited.