Local Grains

Click here to read a great article about Red Hen Baking Company‘s all-Vermont bread, “Cyrus Pringle,” made exclusively with grain from Vermont and named after the legendary UVM wheat breeder (article from Vermont’s Local Banquet).

Check out the Across the Fence video on local grains and research, featuring Randy George of Red Hen Baking Company and Dr. Heather Darby by clicking here.

Can local grains win bakers’ hearts?

“I have tested out Nitty Gritty Grain Company’s red winter wheat all-purpose flour in our teacakes and have found it to be a significant enhancement. The difference is most notable in the texture, making it much smoother.  The crust is finer and the crumb is beautiful.  It is a great find for us.”
Cara Hill
Principal Baker, Bien Fait Specialty Cakes of Vermont, Greensboro, Vermont

2010 Bake Testing of Vermont Grown Wheat
(click here for a printable pdf version)

by Randy George, Red Hen Bakery

One of the most exciting aspects of developing a locally-based grain growing and processing system is the opportunity that it offers for farmers and bakers to come together and discuss what can be done from the field to the hearth to produce the best bread possible.  In the commodity model, farmers and millers work hard to optimize yields and efficiency.  Evaluation of quality for bread wheat in that setting is usually focused on protein quantity.  There is rarely a dialogue between bakers and millers about the finer points of quality.  In contrast, the work at NGGA is based on a deeper discussion.  But sometimes too much dialogue can muddy the waters. I have witnessed the confusion that can arise when different bakers report different results with the same flour, leaving farmers unsure of what they should be doing.  Of course, left to our own devices, there would probably be as many opinions on a given wheat sample as there are bakers.  But in order to offer the farmers meaningful feedback on their crops and help them as they make decisions about future plantings, we bakers need to speak with some certainty about the primary qualitative features of the flour we are working with.

This fall I had the opportunity to test four flour samples from different wheat varieties grown in Vermont this year.  For these tests, I used an analytical tool which fellow baker Thom Leonard adapted from a French test for his work with a small mill in Kansas.  Thom runs this test using a straight dough (yeast-risen), hearth-baked bread formula.  For my tests, fellow NGGA member baker Jeffrey Hamelman and I agreed upon a formula for a naturally leavened bread, since this type of bread is the desired end point for most of the bakers that are interested in using more local wheat.

The goal of this test is to take a few dozen qualitative traits that are evaluated throughout the bread-making process and distill them down to a single number that indicates the overall quality of the flour.  The individual traits are weighted variously depending on their overall importance in making a good loaf of bread, with flavor being weighted most heavily.  So, for example, if a flour does not come together very well in the mixing bowl but it makes a tasty loaf of bread, there will only be a small effect on the overall score.  If a flour sample scored perfectly for every trait (a practical impossibility), it would receive a score of 1.0.  My hope and goal is that the bake score will be an indicator to the farmer/millers of how they are doing in terms of producing flour that is well suited to producing naturally-leavened hearth-baked bread.  (Other types of baked goods would need a test of their own.)



It is important to note that the Harvard and A.C. Morley samples were stone-milled and lightly sifted by Ben Gleason.  The Redeemer and Jerry samples were stone-milled at Butterworks Farm and sifted at the Extension Service lab.  Clearly, the extraction rate (and resulting ash content) was much lower on the latter two samples.  When running the test, I evaluated the performance of each based on what can be expected of a flour of the given extraction.

Note that, for the time being, we do not have one piece of testing equipment that this test expects: an inverse density meter to precisely measure the volume of a baked loaf of bread.  Until we have such an instrument, I have adjusted our tests to remove loaf volume from consideration.

The results of the test were as follows:

A.C. Morley- 0.42

Harvard- 0.80

Redeemer- 0.87

Jerry- 0.65

These results were interesting for a number of reasons.  A.C. Morley is a variety that has been grown for many years by a number of local farmers because of its favorable agronomics.  This test demonstrated that, although A.C. Morley seems to perform well in the field, it leaves something to be desired in the bakery.  The good baking qualities of Harvard were a surprise because the lab tests showed the wheat from this sample to have a protein level of only 9.8% (on a 14% moisture basis), which is generally considered far too low for baking bread.  This is an excellent example of why any evaluation of wheat should include both laboratory and bakery tests.  The Redeemer, on the other hand, showed some of the highest protein levels we have ever seen for Vermont-grown winter wheat (11.95% in this sample) and, as would be expected, the baking characteristics were very nice.  I would put that particular sample of wheat up against the finest Midwestern samples.

It is my hope that we can continue testing local wheat samples in this way and that the results of these tests can assist the farmers as they select varieties and review their growing practices.

NOFA Bakers Panel News
By Julie Sperling & Doug Freilich of Naga Bakehouse
Red Hen Bakery, Naga Bakehouse, and La Meaunerie Milanaise presented “From Field To Hearth” at the 2009 NOFA Winter Conference. The panel discussed what characteristics make some wheat more suitable for baking high quality bread and to what degree can these characteristics be controlled by farmers and millers? The focus of the panel looked at what we can do to work toward producing high quality bread wheat locally?
The presenters stated, when it comes to local grain growing and consumption, there is an abundance of enthusiasm on the part of many consumers and farmers. But there is a real lack of knowledge when it comes to all the things (on both the growing and milling ends) that must go just right if the resulting flour is going to be suitable for making bread. Lately, there has been a greater push on the part of farmers to start producing wheat suitable for making bread.

Last Fall, a group of farmers and bakers were assembled by the UVM Extension Service for a trip to a mill outside of Montreal to learn about their milling operation and the close relationships they have with the farmers that grow for them. It was eye-opening for all in attendance—whether they were involved in farming, milling, or baking– to see what elements are required in producing high quality wheat.

The panel suggested that we need to continue to educate farmers, millers, and bakers about quality criteria and ways of achieving them if we are ever going to see a real increase in usage of locally grown wheat.

There was lively discussion about the importance of field research, bakers trials, agronomy, technology transfer, and the use of falling number and early harvest techniques to safeguard the quality of wheat.

There was great emphasis on reuniting farmers and bakers to bring about a sense of mutual comprehension of the challenges facing wheat production. Specifically, that farmers need to understand the millers and bakers problems associated with poor wheat quality, and bakers need to understand that farmers do not control Mother Nature.

This dialogue between bakers, millers, and farmers is the first step to increase the farmers awareness of the impact of their growing methods on the bread making process and to sensitize bakers and millers to the fact that wheat is alive and changes each season under different environmental conditions.

In conclusion there was a keen desire on the part of bakers and growers to investigate the use of new varieties of locally grown wheat offering enhanced flavors, pronounced colors and the decreased environmental pressure with reduced transport cost associated with local grain production.