EdibWasa Winter 2014 : Page36
WinteR wheAt: centRal mIllinG spoRting its WinteR coaT of FreshLy miLled Flour – in the SummeR theY wasH it Weekly!
Fine Grain: A look at Central Milling
By Benjamin Bombard ■ Photographs By David Vogel
A couple months ago, my once respectable bread baking skills seemed to have dissipated. My loaves wouldn't rise during fermentation, they got little to no oven spring, and they had lost the subtle yet vital sourfloral tang I yearn for in fresh-baked bread. I needed help. A friend of mine, a chef, tried to coach me back into baking shape. We talked for hours about hydration percentages and cultivating natural yeasts; about fermentation times, the benefits of autolyse, and about the techniques and formulas of great bakers in the San Francisco Bay Area, the nexus of America's artisan bread renaissance.<br /> <br /> Eventually, inevitably, our conversation came around to flour. I wondered what flour he used in his delicious miche-style loaf. "We use this flour from a mill up in Logan," he explained. "You know what your problem might be: your flour might be too old. A lot of the flour you buy off the shelf at the supermarket has been sitting around for months, and the proteins in it start to decay. This stuff from Central Milling is pretty darn fresh. And they mostly deal in organics. Even Chad Robertson uses it."<br /> <br /> Chad Robertson is the bread genius behind Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. His stamp of approval was recommendation enough for me to buy a 50-pound bag of Central Milling's basic flour through my friend. I was hoping that I'd just found the cure for my bread baking ailments. What I had undoubtedly discovered was a local food success story, one whose influence can be felt and tasted here in Utah and around the country.<br /> <br /> Central Milling is Utah's oldest continuously operated business. It was born in 1867 as a farmer's co-op and a water-powered mill on the Little Logan River in Logan, Utah. In the first few decades of the 1900s, Cache Valley was home to sixteen mills, earning it a reputation as "Utah's granary." Herbert Weston, a farmer and stockman, bought out Central Milling's 50 co-founding shareholders in 1917, and the mill made its name under generations of Westons as the producer of Red Rose Pancake and Waffle Mix, a product the company still makes today.<br /> <br /> As Central Milling went about its pancake-mix business, Kent Perry, an early advocate of organic food in the region, cultivated organic wheat on his farms in Blackfoot, Idaho and Collinston, Utah. He ground the grain in his basement and sold fresh flour to friends and family. Seeking to expand his nascent grain operation, he bought the struggling Wheatland Seed Company in Brigham City in 1977. Perry was quick to recognize the growing popularity of organic foods in the 90s and decided to purchase the Central Milling facility and focus on processing organic grains there. Fifteen years ago, Central Milling partnered with James Beard-award winning baker Keith Giusto to refine its approach to grain production and produce the best flour for the country's best bakers.<br /> <br /> Today, Central Milling is widely regarded as the best commercial flour available in America. Wheat and spelt grain for its flours are grown at farms throughout the West, with sizable crop acreage in northern and southeastern Utah. The majority of Utah's organic wheat ends up at one of the company's three Utah granaries, located in Logan, Richmond and Collinston. Central Milling refers to the umbrella company under which several product lines and a prolific variety of flours and grains are marketed, including Beehive Organic all-purpose flour, which consists of organic wheat grown exclusively in Utah.<br /> <br /> While you may have never knowingly purchased Central Milling flour, and although the company ships about 75 percent of its products to California – it supplies flour to more than 100 Bay Area bakeries – there's a good chance many Utahns have unknowingly baked with Central Milling flour or eaten bread baked with it. According to Central Milling's president, Lynn Perry, the company produces the "365" line of organic flour for Whole Foods Market and supplies conventional flour to Western Family. And if you've ever chowed down on an Amy's Kitchen bean and cheese burrito or any other baked Amy's product, you've tasted Central Milling flour.<br /> <br /> Their flour is also featured in the loaves of one of Utah's most well known and respected bakeries, Crumb Brothers, also a Loganbased company. Bill Oblock, who owns Crumb Brothers, told me he uses Central Milling's organic flour for the same reason a winery in Bourdeaux would want to use grapes grown in the region. "Bread is like wine," Oblock told me. "It's the terroir of a place. It's about how the soil and the humidity of a place affect the wheat, and how all of that stuff affects the flavor and character of your starter and then your finished bread. And because Central Milling can provide us with consistent organic flour, which is hard to do, we know what kind of flavors to expect when we bake our bread."<br /> <br /> For commercial bakeries like Crumb Brothers, consistency is the name of the game. They need to know how starters and yeast will interact with the nutrients and chemicals in flour, and the more reliable the outcomes, the better the loaves. Lynn Perry explained that Central Milling has a test lab to ensure consistent mineral, chemical and moisture contents throughout the milling process, as well as to ensure that their organic flours are not contaminated with pesticide residues.<br /> <br /> Central Milling's exacting approach to grain production extends from seed to farm to mill to baker to table. Perry told me the company often works with individual bakers to develop flours that suit their needs and tastes. That means cultivating the right seeds at Wheatland Seed in Brigham; finding farm fields with the right altitude, weather and soil; working with farmers to manage the crop, often using organic practices; milling the grain under the right conditions (Perry: "not too hot, or you'll damage the starch"); testing the flours at its California baking lab; training bakers to bake artisan bread; and getting it in the mouths of eager eaters.<br /> <br /> Nowhere else is Central Milling's farm-to-table approach on greater exhibition than at Eva's Bakery in downtown Salt Lake City. The Parisian-style boulangerie was established by Central Milling as a showcase for its organic flours and grains. Charlie Perry, Kent Perry's son, Lynn Perry's nephew and the owner of Eva's Bakery, says the bakery experiments with whatever grains and flours Central Milling throws at them. He and his head baker, Ryan Moore (who trained for years with Keith Giusto) have been experimenting recently with sprouted, ground multi-grains that could soon be available at area Costco stores. Moore and his team of bakers bake bread according to formulas designed by Keith Giusto and his son Nicky at Central Milling's bakery lab.<br /> <br /> Moore agrees with Bill Oblock: "Bread is all about the flour. It's everything," "Bread is almost all flour and water, and I want to know where it all comes from," Moore said. "It's like knowing where your grass-fed beef comes from and how the cattle were raised. Wheat and flour are kind of the last things people think to ask about when they think about where their food comes from, but the more we all know about where it all comes from and how it's raised – well, then the better everything'll be." Much like knowing that the trout on my dinner plate came from a nearby pond, knowing the provenance and history of the 50-pounds of Central Milling flour sitting in a plump bag on my kitchen floor engenders a different relationship between me and my finished bread loaves. Knowing that it was recently milled at a nearby granary, I'm confident it will produce fluffy, flavorful, golden-brown loaves. And it does. And my baking wounds are healed.<br /> <br /> Above Left: Jeff daniels, director of quality control and operations in the flour testing lab. Above: Jeff 's daughter Brailey helps ensure that the finished product is uncontaminated and meets the high standards of the nations' best bakers every time.<br /> <br /> Below: Much of the equipment still in use at the Logan mill dates to the 19th century such as these separators which refine coarse flour coming directly from the milling machine.<br /> <br /> To find Central Milling flour is buy Whole Foods' 365 Organic. Eva's Bakery sells two-pound bags of the flour at the Downtown Farmers Market and Winter Market. If 50 pounds sound reasonable to you then you can pick up a bag directly from the mill.<br />