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There Will Be Bread: The Newest Development in Food Culture Is Also the Oldest 

Wednesday, Nov 27 2013
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In its "identity preserved" pastas, Community Grains also gives an unprecedented level of transparency. To Klein, you can't know your flour until you know the wheat variety, who developed it, where and how the wheat was farmed, when it was harvested, who milled it, and how it was milled. The fusilli lunghi he gave me to try was made from Desert King hard amber durum wheat developed by Dr. Jorge Dubcovsky for the University of California. It was grown on two acres at Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg, planted in November 2010, harvested in June 2011. The wheat was stone-milled in April 2013 on a granite wheel, at a temperature below 110 degrees, by CCOF-certified Certified Foods Inc. in Woodland.

The story of flour, then, is a little more complicated than that of an Early Girl tomato, whose pedigree is slight by comparison: organically grown in Santa Cruz and harvested yesterday.


Community Grains works with farmers to grow boutique and heirloom varieties of wheat — yes, there are such things, tens of thousands of them — then stone-mills the wheat berries in Woodland, using a technique based on methods in France and Italy. (How flour is milled — how the whole grains are crushed — can have as radical of an impact on the final product as whether you prepare a piece of beef by braising, frying, sautéing, or dry-aging it.) Community Grains flour and pastas are sold to restaurants and bakeries, and available to the public online and at markets like Bi-Rite.

Community Grains' durum fusilli also happens to be the best whole-wheat pasta I've ever made at home — an elegant, supple noodle that doesn't even seem like the same species as its chunky, coarse supermarket counterparts. It had flavor, a delicate nuttiness, and it became another essential element of the dish, not just a delivery system for the sauce. The Community Grains soft wheat macaroni is almost like white pasta, but with just more presence — a simple plate of buttered noodles was a pleasure. Klein's restaurant, Oliveto, now bases its pasta dishes around the flavor of the grains; it's as integral to the dish as the meat.

Now going through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds of wheat a month, Community Grains is making pasta and flour on a fairly large scale, albeit nothing approaching industrial farms. But some bakers are taking things into their own hands and have started milling their own flour to make it as fresh as possible. One of the earliest local pioneers was Dave Miller, a Chico-based baker who has been at this for two decades. He's mentored a number of bread-makers, including Josey Baker and Chad Robertson from Tartine. (It's a Richard Scarry-esque coincidence that both Baker and Miller share their surname with their profession, but in another sense it's not — these roles have been so codified in our society that family names are based on them.)

Miller only bakes 400 loaves a week, which he sells for $5 a loaf at the Chico farmers' market, and mills all of his flour directly before baking with it. He's into the health benefits and supporting the local economy, but it's really the sensory elements of fresh flour that get him excited. He talks about the "wonderfully sweet aroma" and "light and fluffy and airy" consistency of fresh flour, which you can only attain if you're milling it at the source. "When you open a bag of flour two to three weeks old, it's just not there anymore. To me, it's kind of a sign of the life of the thing," he says. "Flour kind of wilts in a way, like a real flower, after it's milled. You lose the aroma and you lose the texture and I think you lose some of the nutrition too. It's hard not to use freshly milled flour after you've been milling."

I had my first encounter with just-milled flour at The Mill. It was more fluffy and dynamic in texture than supermarket flour, less like talcum powder, and had a toasty aroma, a sweet, earthy flavor, and none of the bitterness I usually associate with whole wheat. I'll be damned, I thought. I've eaten calf's brain, sea cucumber, and grasshopper, but until this moment I've never really tasted flour before.

Baker also gave me a hunk of an experimental loaf he'd made earlier that day, a blend of white khorasan, red wheat, and white wheat. It was undeniably whole-wheat bread, but had a whole extra dimension of depth and character. To Baker and others, the quest for new flavors is also about mining the possibilities in the wide world of grains. Most of the wheat grown in this country is a type known as hard red, but there are tens of thousands of varieties of wheat in the world, including some of the oldest grains on earth: emmer, Kamut, einkorn, and spelt. "It's like you're painting and you just have three colors to work with, and all of a sudden there's like 10," Baker says. "At the core of it, for me, is that this whole venture is driven by curiosity."


About The Author

Anna Roth

Anna Roth

Bio:
Anna Roth is SF Weekly's former Food & Drink Editor and author of West Coast Road Eats: The Best Road Food From San Diego to the Canadian Border.

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