We have heard the nursery rhyme the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker right? What about the Miller…… the guy who turns “sawdust into gold” or makes the grain turn to edible flour. This is the story of the miller.
We hear a lot about the chefs and bakers (almost ridiculously hoisted up to super star status thanks to food network bozo-ness) but what about the Miller…. without the miller we would have no product..so then that lead me to wonder about The Mills… how does the milling process affect the flavor? Well some other folks wondered about that too and so now we have the phrase: A NEW GRAIN ECONOMY: an economy that connects the miller to the farmer to the baker. (just like them good old days) but now we have a demand for a far superior product (AT LEAST IN SILICON VALLEY LAND) because the affluence stirs the competition. You might have even heard of the $4 toast in san francisco. read here: http://www.businessinsider.com/we-tried-the-fancy-4-toast-san-francisco-is-going-crazy-for-2015-6
In 1790, Oliver Evans, an inventor from Delaware, was the third inventor to receive a patent from from the USA for his model of a roller mill.. no more muscle power!! This machine could use bucket elevators conveying devices, and a “hopper boy” a device that cooled and dried the meal before feeding it into the bolting cylinder. Wheat could now be taken from a boat, cleaned, ground, dried, cooled, sifted and packed without the need for a human operator.. This machine produced consistent cleaner finer flour.. The machine was expensive and most millers did not have a large enough volume of business to justify the expense of installing Evans invention…but eventually a few millers invested and George Washington even went to visit one of Evans Mills in Delaware and was so impressed, he ordered one for himself. As it turns out… drum roll please.. now that quantity was easier to supply, costs came down for the consumer and so more city dwellers were now buyers of bread rather than producers! But a funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store (sort a speak)
In 1817.. construction of the Erie Canal began.. Many wheat farmers acquired land along its path to use the water power for their roller mills, by the 1840’s there were 24,000 gristmills.. then steam power was introduced and steel rollers.. Mills no longer had to be located along the rivers and these new steel rollers reduced the cost of flour even further….these new steel rollers could grind hard wheat faster, removing the bran,germ and oil, then millers bleached the product making a white bright product and thereby (here is the advertisers famous mantra) EXTENDING THE SHELF LIFE!!!! and voila.. you got a mean, clean cheap flour with all nutrients and vitamins eviscerated.. WHOOPEE SHOUTS THE MONEY MAKERS…but as usual in American business making.. if something is making money… why cannot it make more and more and more money right? That’s why advertising is needed; to come up with words like “vast improvement” and “newer technology” “maximize efficiency” all translated: GREATER PROFITS. The story is old but still needs to be told. Large and efficient operations drove the small millers out of business and the result was the concentration of the milling industry into fewer and fewer hands. By 1900 there were only 13000 flour milling companies and by 2000, these were only 100 flour milling companies in the nation…so all of this background brings me to say that by wanting to learn how to bake; you have to begin to learn to taste.. by having to stop and taste, you want to know how to get the great flavor, by having to get great flavor, you have to know your products and where they come from and that is what people talk about when they talk about “that great loaf I used to get from my neighborhood in Detroit, Chicago, North Carolina, Brooklyn. I am here to say I am bringing back good flour grown here In Caliornia by a bunch of farmers in the Yolo county and milled by Joseph Vanderliet: Here is a passage about him from Edible East Bay magazine from Oakland, California.
NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE:
Joe is Joseph Vanderliet. Certified Foods is a small flour mill five minutes away from Cooper’s Woodland office. In many ways, this mill is the heart of the local grain movement. When I ask why 90 percent of his flour is milled from California grain, Vanderliet replies simply, “Why should we go out of state, if California wheat performs? Why spend the money on freight?”
Established in 1992, Certified Foods markets its own flour blends under the “Joseph’s Best” label, while also grinding grain for distributors like Bob Klein’s Community Grains and for individual farmers such as Rominger Brothers, who recently delivered half a pallet of durum to be milled for pasta. Certified Foods links farmers to bakers and works to preserve the identity of each variety of wheat, something that Cooper, Klein, and Rominger all see as crucial for the market success of local heritage wheat.
Klein credits Vanderliet’s milling skill as key to transforming California wheat into high-quality flour. Not only is Vanderliet’s mill small enough that he can finesse the best out of each variety, but he also uses a unique combination of grindstones and steel rollers. With these, he carefully grinds whole-grain flour in a way that preserves its nutritional value, while creating a product that behaves much like white flour. Though he is reluctant to go into the details of his operation, he does say, “We are in a moment of transition. We are in the middle of a renaissance in milling.”
Vanderliet began his career in the Midwest as a grain buyer for Archer Daniels Midland, and has attended both baking and brewing schools. Eventually, he located in Oakland, opening what was then the country’s most advanced flour mill. He soon grew frustrated by how many nutrients were lost in conventional milling, where the only goal seemed to be to produce the whitest of flour.
To emphasize his point, he holds up two bar graphs: The first charts the nutrients left in refined flour; the second is a list of the major micronutrient deficiencies in the USA. They could be pieces of the same puzzle. It is no secret how the removal of the bran and germ, along with the heat of the rollers, robs the wheat of its vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty oils. “Our addiction to refined flour is a major health crisis,” the miller says, “and is something I aim to resolve in my lifetime.”
Good to his word, Vanderliet’s Certified Foods is certified organic and grinds only whole-grain flour. Still reluctant to give any secrets away, he tells me that an important step is ensuring that the wheat is in good condition. “We only use wheat that could be planted in the ground and produce two leaves and a split root,” he says, using his broad hands for emphasis. “If it’s going to be food,” he concludes, “you want it to be alive.”
Leaving Vanderliet’s office in the late autumn afternoon, I am reminded of two things. The first is Bob Klein’s musing back in August of the meaning of eating locally. “What is the issue?” he asked rhetorically. “Is it about organic? Better tasting food? Leaving a smaller carbon footprint? For me, it’s ‘I know a guy who is a farmer, and he knows a guys who’s a miller, then someone else knows someone who is a baker . . . ’ and on and on. It’s about making connections, passing along valuable information, and building community.” The second thing to cross my mind is the thought that, not too long ago, and in nearly every community, the farmer, the miller, and the baker formed a triad that was in large part responsible for the health of the community. •
I have now baked hundreds of loaves and believe it or not I still cannot wait to bake the next one…. “the next one” is always my favorite one. It is the one coming right out of the oven.. it is the one I get t0 inspect for hollow sound; check, good color: check, nice score on top: check, good crumb texture; check, and above all else.. how does it taste? Well I have all of you grainiacs now to keep tasting, keep asking questions about the bread baked by your local baker and milled by the miller up the road.. and that’s enough grist for your mill today folks.. oh and by the way.. the mill near where George Washinton built his home is the only Evans mill left in the united states
“ACORNS WERE GOOD UNTIL GOOD BREAD WAS FOUND.”