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Whole Foods Market partners with The Bread Lab at Drexel University

whole foodsWhole Foods Market partners with The Bread Lab at Drexel University to create exclusive fresh-milled breads

Chef Marc Vetri created recipes with exceptional flours from Castle Valley Mill in Doylestown, PA

Philadelphia, Pa. – Whole Foods Market is partnering with The Bread Lab at Drexel University to create flavorful, fresh-milled breads made from recipes by Chef Marc Vetri and Vetri Head Baker Claire Kopp McWilliams that utilize locally sourced ingredients. The breads are now available for purchase exclusively at Philadelphia’s newest Whole Foods Market location at 2101 Pennsylvania Avenue.

This unique collaboration with The Bread Lab at Drexel University utilizes some of Philadelphia’s best culinary resources to create bread made with long-fermented dough from fresh-milled wheat. Chef Marc Vetri and Vetri Head Baker Claire Kopp McWilliams created the recipes with flour from Castle Valley Mill in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Castle Valley Mill flour is processed slowly and at cool temperatures on antique buhr mills to ensure that the flavor and nutrients of the grain are preserved.

The breads, offered as either a batard or baguette, are made from scratch by Whole Foods Market bakers. As with all other products sold at Whole Foods Market, the bread meets Whole Foods Market’s rigorous quality standards and is free of artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives and hydrogenated fats.

On Sunday, July 16 from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. customers are invited to sample the bread and talk with Vetri Head Baker Claire Kopp McWilliams and Alexandra Zeitz of The Bread Lab at Drexel University.

“I am honored to be a part of The Bread Lab at Drexel University,” said Chef Marc Vetri. “The recipes we created for this project are all about the quality of flour produced at Castle Valley Mill and bringing out its natural taste and nutrients.”

“The Bread Lab at Drexel is an exciting new partnership with the Bread Lab at Washington State. Our Culinary & Food Science department along with Nutrition Sciences will work on how to integrate whole grains back into the diet,” said Rosemary Trout, head of the Culinary Arts & Food Science department. “They taste great, and the nutritional benefits are there too. Where Washington State has land and expertise in growing varieties of wheat and grains, we have high population density to distribute recipes, freshly-milled whole grain products and cooking techniques to many people in the city. Taking an idea and translating it into a delicious and nutritional product is what we do best.”

“We are thrilled to partner with The Bread Lab at Drexel University to create this new line of fresh-milled breads now available in our store,” said Anastasia Sotiropulos, Whole Foods Market regional bakery coordinator. “All involved in this unique collaboration – Drexel University, Chef Marc Vetri and Castle Valley Mill – are devoted to finding more flavorful, natural foods and, together, we created breads that draw out the inherent features and tastes of the high quality flour.”

About the Bread Lab at Drexel University

The Bread Lab at Drexel University focuses on product development, nutrition and issues of health and access surrounding whole grains and our communities. In conjunction with master chef Marc Vetri, Stephen Jones, PhD, distinguished visiting fellow in Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and director of The Bread Lab at Washington State University, and key academic units throughout Drexel University, the lab conducts cutting edge research on the culinary, sensory, nutrition, flavor and chemical aspects of promising varieties of grain. The lab focuses on nutrition analysis, recipe and product development, fresh local milling, and natural leavening in order to resolve business and social challenges of the food industry and to address issues unique to a major urban center. The lab also works with eastern PA farmers and local millers to bring value back to our communities. The Bread Lab at Drexel University is the east coast’s urban extension of The Bread Lab at Washington State University.

About Drexel University

Founded in 1891 in Philadelphia, Drexel is a comprehensive urban university of more than 26,000 students, consistently ranked in America’s top 100 by U.S. News & World Report. Drexel is a leader in experiential, technology-infused education, enriched by the nation’s premier cooperative education program. The University’s recognized excellence in translational research is supported by the Coulter Foundation through the Coulter-Drexel Translational Research Partnership. Drexel advances its culture of innovation by encouraging multidisciplinary collaboration, technology commercialization and entrepreneurship — an approach exemplified by the ExCITe (Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies) Center, the interdisciplinary A.J. Drexel Institutes, Drexel Ventures, the Innovation Center @ 3401 Market Street, the Close School of Entrepreneurship and the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship. Drexel is also committed to becoming the nation’s most civically engaged university, improving quality of life in its neighborhood and the city through the twin engines of community partnerships and innovation-based economic development.

Hundreds attend Bread Lab grand opening

BURLINGTON — Washington State University Bread Lab Director Stephen Jones pointed to a photo in the facility’s main hallway Wednesday as guests streamed by for the grand opening.

“This is a photo of first lady Michelle Obama planting our wheat at the White House,” Jones said.

Milestones and accomplishments were highlighted during the event honoring the completion of the Bread Lab’s new 12,000-square-foot facility at the Port of Skagit.

The lab portion of the facility was completed last year. A few weeks ago, the milling room and commercial kitchen were finished. The facility also houses King Arthur Flour, which offers baking classes to the public.

About 400 attended the event.

Since coming to Skagit County in 2008, Bread Lab researchers have helped farmers grow healthier, tastier and more lucrative wheat varieties. The breakthroughs have been important for local farmers, such as Washington Bulb Company co-owner John Roozen, who rely on rotational crops to revitalize their soil.

“We are growing the highest yielding barley variety in the world,” Roozen said. “We are growing it in a field that was filled with tulips last year … This was made possible by this program.”

Senior Scientific Assistant Steve Lyon said he is excited about the new state-of-the-art facility. Lyon and Jones previously worked in a 600-square-foot lab at the WSU Mount Vernon Research Center.

“I’m always asking Steve Jones, ‘What’s next?’” Lyon said. “As a plant breeder, we’ve got to stay ahead of the game … It’s been an incredible journey so far.”

WSU President Kirk Schulz spoke during the ceremony of wanting the Bread Lab to get more widespread notice.

“We have this world-class work that folks locally know about,” Schulz said. “As we see these great facilities here today, I could see a Bread Lab where people are coming from around the world because they realize just how cutting-edge the research is here.”

Some of the Bread Lab’s higher-profile work over the years has involved helping the restaurant chain Chipotle make healthier tortillas. The lab is also working with the restaurant chain Burgerville to improve its hamburger buns.

One of the Bread Lab’s most recent accomplishments was naming a new species of perennial wheat called Salish Blue. It’s the first time a WSU research team has named a wheat species.

Pierson Shimon and fiancee Stacy Okura of Woodinville attended the event, taking a look at the large ovens inside King Arthur Flour’s classroom. The couple were doing research for a farm they hope to start.

“(Okura) does a lot of bread baking,” Shimon said. “We want to have our own small farm to do our own wheat … We are doing some research today.”

Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin also spoke during the ceremony, stressing the importance of supporting the local agriculture community.

Roozen said that partnership with local entities helped the Bread Lab thrive.

“The synergism we have here is amazing,” Roozen said. “That’s what gets everything going.”

You can buy Vetri bread at Whole Foods

Vetri Bread at Whole Foods
You can buy Vetri bread at Whole Foods starting next month
The loaves, made with heirloom whole grains from Bucks County’s Castle Valley Mill, are a partnership with Drexel’s Bread Lab.

BillyPenn: By Dana Henninger photo, Marc Vetri

Starting this summer, the baguette you pick up at Whole Foods could have a familiar name attached to it: Marc Vetri.

In partnership with the nascent Bread Lab at Drexel, a grain and baking research center that Vetri helped establish, the chef and his head baker Claire Kopp McWilliams have developed a series of loaves for the high-end supermarket giant. What sets this bread apart? It’ll be made with long-fermented dough created from freshly-milled heirloom wheat from Doylestown’s Castle Valley Mill.

Starting with a boule and a baguette, the new breads — richer and more flavorful than regular white flour versions, but also gentler on the digestive system, plus more nutritious — are expected to be available at the Callowhill Whole Foods bakery counter by mid- to late June. “We are super excited to work with Marc and his team to launch this artisanal bread,” said Tien Ho, Whole Foods global VP of culinary and hospitality.

No, neither Drexel nor Vetri is getting into the bread delivery game. The supermarket loaves will be made on-site. McWilliams has already started training Whole Foods bakers, leading them through the procedures she and Vetri developed in conjunction with Drexel, where he is an adjunct professor.

For Drexel, this is an exciting first step toward having a brand connected with the School of Hospitality Management — as opposed to the other facets of the university.

“We are high in terms of the number of copyrights we hold,” said Drexel communications director Jimmy Willson, “but mostly they’re in scientific fields. We want to extend that to culinary. Ideally, this would be the first in a line of products developed through The Bread Lab and The Food Lab.”

For Vetri, the Whole Foods partnership is just the tip of the iceberg in his vision for the potential of an urban version of the famed Bread Lab at Washington State University.

Jones spoke at Drexel’s Philly Chef Conference earlier this year

The Washington State facility, run by heirloom grain expert Dr. Stephen Jones, focuses mostly on agrarian applications — as befits its location in the middle of a rural area surrounded by farmland. After Vetri started working with Jones around three years ago, he came up with the idea that Drexel should start something similar but focused on urban applications, and he’s been working toward making it a reality ever since. Earlier this year, Drexel hired Jones as a Lindy Fellow, and the project finally got moving.

“Think of all those vacant lots, like in Mantua or other neighborhoods,” Vetri said. “Using research from the Bread Lab, we could turn them into mini wheat fields.”

Vetri hopes to involve residents who live nearby in all facets of the project, from helping maintain the plots to harvesting to cooking and baking with the grain. “We could develop a whole inner city community around local heirloom wheat.”

A high-profile product like Drexel Bread Lab/Vetri branded bread at Whole Foods doesn’t directly help create that community, but it will help jump start the bigger picture plans, Vetri explained.

For consumers who shop at Whole Foods, the project is good news whether or not they’re aware of its larger socioeconomic goals. Loaves made with long-fermentation and heirloom whole grains are healthier and easier to digest than white flour bread (if you’re just gluten-averse and not fully celiac, pay attention). They’re also much more flavorful. The Bread Lab products shouldn’t be much more expensive than plain ol’ regular loaves, Vetri said.

Once things are going well and loaves are established at the Callowhill location, the plan is to expand the project to other Philly-area Whole Foods — and potentially even port the idea to markets in other regions, so they can develop their own local grain breads.

Read original article here.

Farms of the Future

Camas Country Mill and Food Resiliency in the Willamette Valley

Photo by Todd Cooper

To understand the future of the Willamette Valley as a food-producing region, it’s a good idea to look at its history. And to get a good look at its history, you have to go back about 50 million years.

Before the Pacific Northwest as we know it was formed, a series of volcanic islands known as the Siletzia Island Chain sprouted up, forming the backbone of what we now think of as the Coast Range.

Flash-forward 10 million years, and “the Siletzia block was accreted onto the North American Plate and covered with a thick pile of sediments,” says Leland O’Driscoll, a research associate at the University of Oregon’s Department of Earth Sciences.

The birth of the Cascade Volcanic Range established high grounds to the east, leaving a topographic trough now known as the Willamette Valley. Especially susceptible to erosion, the unstable volcanic and sedimentary rocks were whittled down by tributaries, trickling minerals downhill into our area over millions of years.

Now set your time machine to 14,000 years ago. A glacial mass dams a river valley in western Montana, producing a large lake. As the glacier begins to retreat, it releases the water from the lake. This happens again and again as the glacier advances and retracts.

The Great Missoula Flood, actually a series of more than 70 floods, was a wild geological event that ripped a chunk of glacier from its moorings and sent an enormous river of accumulated topsoil and mineral deposit throughout the Columbia Plateau and into the Willamette Valley.

So why look to the past?

Because as we move forward, with ever-increasing populations and widening growth boundaries — and as we become increasingly dependent on food sources from outside our local area — this resource, the Willamette Valley as a fertile cradle, a place where food sources can and should be nurtured, becomes all the more compelling.

Deep roots

I’m sitting in the cozy Camas Country Mill Store & Bakery off Meadowview Road, just north of the Eugene airport, on a bright, cold day.

The place smells wonderfully of baking bread, and the counters are stuffed with cookies, scones and muffins, all made from Camas Mill’s wholegrain flours. Sue Hunton, a retired sixth-grade teacher, is telling hungry patrons about today’s homemade soups.

Sue’s husband, Tom Hunton, has worked the land since he was a boy.

“My dad had an eighth-grade education,” Tom Hunton says. “Mom went through high school, but from 14 on, dad was self-reliant.”

Tom Hunton’s father, Everett Hunton, and his wife, Ellen, grew up in Harrisburg.

“Mom is 93, and she still does our books, and she goes to the post office and the bank for us every day,” Hunton says. “Her parents were Danish. And now, politically, socially, philosophically, we’ve come full circle. My great-grandfather was a baker in Randers, Denmark, and our millstones come from there.”

As a lifelong farmer, Tom Hunton has seen firsthand the changes in the area, and he and his family have been no small part of that adaptation.

In 1950, the Huntons, like so many Willamette Valley farmers, started growing and selling grass seed.

According to the Oregon Seed Council, grass seed is Oregon’s fifth largest agricultural crop. Statewide, grass seed is grown on nearly 400,000 acres. Of those, 360,000 acres are in the Willamette Valley. That is nearly equal to the acreage of all other types of agriculture combined.

Each year, less than two percent of grass seed grown in Oregon is used in the state. And between 15 and 20 percent is exported outside the U.S.

This is big business. Overall, grass seed farming drives more than $1 billion in annual economic activity in Oregon.

But throughout our area, there’s a movement towards relocalizing economies and focusing on using the inherent richness of the Willamette Valley to grow food.

“It’s changing in many ways. It’s not about yield, but about delivering baking performance and flavor,” Hunton says. “There’s still a lot of grass seed being grown. For many soils, that’s the best adaptation. But we’re seeing now where grass seed acres are going into hazelnuts, grain varietals and legumes. This is a new market, one that’s not commodity-based.”

In a typical grain economy, Hunton explains, farmers will have large fields planted with multiple varieties of, let’s say, wheat. (Think of that bag of generic all-purpose flour in your pantry; any number of wheat varieties ended up in it.)

But with consumer demand, that’s changing.

“We do identity-preserved growing,” Hunton says. “And our customers help us choose what they like, with different varieties that have different baking characteristics.”

Tom and Sue Hunton. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Willamette valley bounty

Farming, as we know it, is a fairly recent activity in the Willamette Valley. But this area’s first-known residents, the Kalapuya Indians, “intensively managed plant communities to their advantage for millennia, with the skilled use of fire,” says UO archeologist Thomas Connolly. “Annual burns expanded the range of nutritious seed-bearing plants over brush.”

The region’s verdant ecosystems provided a sustaining and healthful diet for the thousands of indigenous peoples who migrated in and out of the valley over millennia. Local food sources included abundant fish along riparian waterways, game — especially deer and waterfowl — tarweed seeds, acorns and hazelnuts, berries and fruits and the root of the camas flower.

Between about 1770 and 1840, mortality of indigenous people in the valley exceeded 95 percent. They had no immunity to the diseases brought to the region. “By the time settlers made their way in greater numbers across the Oregon Trail, beginning in 1843, this was already the post-apocalyptic Kalapuya world,” Connolly says.

If we could go back in time and look at this area just a couple of centuries ago, it would look very different, before settlers began to drain and cultivate wetland areas.

Once the Kalapuyas’ annual burning was suppressed, the forests began to encroach on the valley, and parkland and savannas filled with brush.

The introduction of grazing domesticated animals — cattle, sheep and hogs — impacted water sources and streambeds as well as the plant and animal life they once supported.

Livestock was tough on the indigenous food supply. George Riddle (the Douglas County town is named for his family) wrote about the native peoples’ carefully tended tarweed fields: “At that time Cow Creek valley looked like a great wheat field. The Indians, according to their custom, had burned the grass during the summer, and early rains had caused a luxuriant crop of grass on which our immigrant cattle were fat by Christmas time.”

And pigs destroyed the camas fields.

For thousands of years the Willamette Valley offered a bounty of food sources to its people. But in little more than a century, food across the country, and here at home, has been financially and systematically commoditized. Though we live in one of the lushest food-growing environments in the world, the food on your plate likely rolled in by truck or train, or on a plane.

Is it possible to bring what we eat back in line with local food systems?

New vistas

What if our local farms could grow our food?

The Camas Mill story, with its transition from forage and turf grasses to clover and meadowfoam, then to vegetable and cover crop seeds, and most recently to beans, lentils and grains, is about adaptation and a good deal of juggling.

The Huntons manage 2,800 acres and 10 to 12 crops, with a total of 20-plus varieties included in those.

“It complicates matters a lot, with so many more crops,” Hunton says. “We’re growing seven different varieties of wheat. It used to be grain was harvested and shipped in the fall, but now we have to maintain inventory for 15 to 18 months, which impacts cash flow.”

The Huntons serve as a seed source for many other farmers. And as the prices for one crop, like grass seed, falls, other crops, like hazelnuts or durum wheat, might just prove more lucrative.

“Most growers want to grow,” Hunton says.

And as farmers like the Huntons have kept abreast of changes in the food landscape, it’s opened new vistas for their efforts. “We supply bakeries, high-end chefs, as well as the craft brewing and distilling movement,” Hunton says.

For the farm of the future, it might not be about more, but about different. “We’re maxing out our arable acres. But we knew we’d never win in a commodity community,” Hunton says. “We knew we had to be different in how we processed the grain, that we’d find value there.”

The Huntons favor crops that have an inherent adaptability and that are disease resistant.

“We have organic and conventional both,” Hunton says. “Our organic uses only organic inputs, milling and designated processing equipment.”

Hunton points to an example. The farm recently began growing buckwheat, which had traditionally been grown only as a cover crop or as a component of animal feed. But with the addition of an onsite roaster and de-huller, their mill has begun to produce kasha, or buckwheat groats.

“The mill became a critical piece of infrastructure,” Hunton says.

A few miles from their country store, the Camas mill millstones whirl with a constant hum. On the day I visit, they’re processing rye grain destined for the Fremont Mischief Distillery in Seattle.

Fresh baked bread in a wood-fired oven. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Finding common ground

Camas Country Mill, in its own humble way, is as cosmopolitan as it comes, adapting to global appetites and providing key ingredients to a variety of food preparers — from home cooks to high-end chefs.

“We had to learn not just how to grow and to process, but how to market our product,” Hunton says.

At the mill, sacks printed in English and Ethiopian await filling. The Huntons grow teff, an annual bunch grass that is the key ingredient in the Ethiopian flatbread staple, injera.

“There’s been a farm connection in place in this area for a longtime, with farmers markets and CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture],” Hunton says.

Generations have enjoyed ripe-picked berries or delectable chanterelles, or any of the copious bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that local farms have on offer. But the idea of locally sourced grains and legumes is a fairly new one.

“Go back 10 years, and the grains — which provide 60 to 70 percent of our calories — were the last that had that local focus,” Hunton says. “Nobody cared where their flour came from. But now, grains can have traceability.”

With its sizeable land base and its grain cleaning and storing facility, Camas Mill is able to focus on cultivating grains and legumes that the market craves.

“The emphasis on local food is evolving,” Hunton says. “And we’ve asked ourselves what we could do to adapt.”

Food smart

Camas Country Mill is in good company.

Oregon State University Extension Service’s Small Farms Program hosts an annual Small Farms Conference, which drew more than 1,000 people last year.

And at a recent fill-your-pantry event, the Willamette Food and Farm Coalition invited farmers from throughout the area to offer their goods, including grains and legumes — as well as storage crops like onions, squash and garlic — direct to the consumer.

Willamette Food and Farm Coalition’s Lynne Fessenden explains.

“The Fill-Your-Pantry event started out as a way to support farms that were growing beans and grains, by helping customers to be aware that farmers are growing these crops,” Fessenden says. “At first, there were just two farms: Greenwillow Grains in Brownsville and Camas Country Mill.”

Participants in 2016 ranged from Adaptive Seeds and Deck Family Farm to Organic Redneck and Wintergreen Farm.

Even the full list is far from a complete picture of the many small farms making a go of growing in the fertile Willamette Valley.

“This is the first year that Camas Mill didn’t sell at the event,” Fessenden says. “It’s a sign of their success. They don’t need the event anymore because they’re not selling by the pound, they’re selling by the pallet.”

The Willamette Farm & Food Coalition facilitates and supports the development of a secure and sustainable food system in Lane County and Camas Mill plays a vital role in that vision.

“Ten years ago, no one was growing hard red wheat in the valley, but in a five year stretch, we went from no locally grown wheat in the area, to two farms, both growing, and milling wheat for baking,” Fessenden says. “That gives me great hope.”

But Tom Hunton remains humble.

“We think we understand the agronomy, the cultural practices of raising a crop,” he says. (Agronomy is the science of soil management and crop production.) “But the outreach and marketing, we felt we needed help with.”

Camas Country Mill employs just 12 people, not all at full-time, but judging from the scale of their operation, one would think they had a lot more help.

“This venture, this effort, brings to us employees with a lot of passion, for what we’re doing,” Hunton says.

The farm hosts weekly school tours. “The kids get to see the grain in the field, they get to grind some flour, and then they get a homemade muffin.”

Hunton says he’d like to see more opportunities for communities to connect to food and where it comes from.

Labor of love

Growing is one aspect of farming. Though the relocalization movement encourages consumers to mindfully choose food options from nearby, Camas Mill depends on a growing web of channels to sell their products. “The cold, hard truth is that distribution is complicated,” Hunton says.

Camas Mill partners with Hummingbird Wholesale to help facilitate that distribution.

“Tom is one of the smartest men I know,” says Hummingbird co-owner Charlie Tilt. “He’s the ultimate example of what a farmer can be.”

Tilt and Hunton have worked together since 2012 to grow the local food economy.

“Tom approached us as a conventional farmer interested in trying to raise grains and beans,” Tilt says. “We were initially not interested, since we sell only organic. But we were interested in seeing and supporting the transition to organic acreage, and Tom just won us over.”

“If you don’t support transitional products, then you can’t get to organic,” Tilt notes.

The collaboration with Hummingbird was instrumental in getting the Camas Mill up and running.

“People don’t buy wheat berries, they buy flour,” Tilt says. “And we penciled out that the mill would need to do 500,000 pounds of production per year to pay for itself.”

Early adapters included the Bread Stop Bakery in Eugene and New Seasons Market in Portland.

But Camas Mill also does plenty of self-distribution to restaurants and bakeries, shipping across the country. Their regular clients include Grand Central Baking, with outposts in Portland and Seattle; San Francisco’s famous Tartine Bakery; Prager Brothers Artisan Breads in Carlsbad, Calif.; Selam Foods in Minneapolis, Minn.; and celebrity chef Dan Barber, at the inimitable Blue Hill restaurant, in upstate New York.

And these wholegrain flours are not just destined for upscale eateries.

Camas Country Mill, notes Hunton, also distributes to “eight Oregon school districts and two universities, who provide whole grain baked goods with our flour.”

The mill has partnered with FOOD for Lane County to offer its high-protein soup mix, a combination of low-glycemic grains, beans and lentils, to food pantry sites across the region.

“By working with a food rescue facility, we’re able to give back to the community,” Hunton says.

Deb McGeorge, FOOD for Lane County resource manager, couldn’t be more grateful.

“Camas Country Mill helps us in our choices on what to produce locally on our leased land in Junction City (lentils, barley, pintos, garbanzos, etc.). They farm and mill product for us,” McGeorge says. “They teach us sustainable ways to feed the multitudes”

Camas Country Mill is a multi-generational effort. From Hunton’s mother running errands and keeping the books, to his wife Sue Hunton minding the store and his son Jason Hunton co-managing the farm.

So, as populations grow and resources become scarcer, what would Hunton’s hope be for the next generation or for his young grandson Owen?

“I hope he’d see that what grandma and grandpa, great-grandma and his mom and dad are giving him are the opportunities to remain on the land and to be connected to his community, by producing food that’s wholesome and somewhat unique,” Hunton says.

“That’s a solid ground to build a future on.”

Camas Country Mill and Bakery is open 8 am-3 pm, Tuesday-Saturday, at 91948 Purkerson Rd., in Junction City. You can also find their products at Hummingbird Wholesale, 150 Shelton McMurphey Blvd, in Eugene.

The Bread Lab: A Washington State Treasure

LESLIE MACKIE Macrina Bakery

BreadLabFieldsThe flour most of us are familiar with—the inert, white powdery stuff from the supermarket with a long shelf life—is a very modern development in our long relationship with wheat, the most important food in history. Before industrial agriculture became dominant, milling was done at regional mills with diverse strains of wheat. The effort to create uniform flours that won’t spoil has taken much of the flavor and nutrition from our flour and the products made with it.

One of the national leaders in the effort to restore flavor and nutrition to available wheat is located just north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley. Dr. Steven Jones runs The Bread Lab, an extension of Washington State University. He is devoted to bringing grain agriculture back to our region. A hundred years ago, fields of grains filled the Skagit Valley, but as industrial wheat brought the price of the commodity down farmers shifted to more valuable crops. Recently though, farmers, using wheat as a rotation crop to break disease cycles and to restore vital elements to the soil have discovered, or rediscovered, that many varietals grow wonderfully there. This is where The Bread Lab comes in. Jones is a wheat breeder dedicated to making regional grain farming viable again. His lab develops vigorous wheat hybrids full in flavor and nutritional value that grow optimally in particular climates.

Over six years ago, I was invited to be part of The Bread Lab’s advisory board. Back then I had no idea how impactful it would be. At the time, I was happy with our flour and didn’t imagine I would be looking elsewhere. A few bakers I knew in Seattle were experimenting with milling their own flours. I was eager to learn more. The Bread Lab proved to be an excellent resource. It gave me the opportunity to test wheat from smaller growers. Jones and his team check it for strength and provide us with its falling number, which indicates the speed of fermentation. As you can imagine, our baking schedule is pretty tight. A dough moving unexpectedly slowly or quickly can really throw things off.

Using ingredients with the highest integrity has always been central to my mission at Macrina. In flours, flavor and high nutritional value are the two most important things I look for, along with consistency and a reliable supply. My earliest fascination was with whole grain milling. Most commercially produced flour is made only with the starchy endosperm of the grain. Both the nutrient-rich bran and flavorful wheat germ are discarded because the oils they contain will turn rancid in a few weeks. But the durability that commercial flour gains by discarding them comes at an enormous cost—the loss of flavor and nutrition.

WheatThis is why, years ago, I started using freshly milled whole grain flours from Fairhaven Mills. I admire the nutty and natural caramel flavor that comes from the milled whole grain flours. When I first started experimenting with this whole grained milled flour, I was hydrating a portion of the flour to soften the bran. This worked to some degree, but I was still not getting the rise I wanted, resulting in a dense texture. The Bread Lab provided me with many strategies. With their help and plenty of experimenting, I got the results I desired. On another occasion, we had a difficulty with a flour we were getting from Fairhaven Mills. They’d had to substitute a wheat from Montana rather the Walla Walla wheat we’d been using. I sent a sample to The Bread Lab. They tested it and determined that the wheat had a smaller falling number, which means the dough develops quickly. We reduced the mixing time and with lots of tweaking got consistent results. When you’re mixing hundreds of pounds of dough destined for someone’s table in a few hours and the dough isn’t behaving you can imagine the frenetic scene that results.

Every year The Bread Lab hosts an annual conference called Grain Gathering. Professional bakers, bread enthusiasts, brewers, farmers, and chefs from around the country descend on the Skagit Valley. Workshops, panel discussions, and demonstrations cover a range of wheat-centered topics (I’ve learned lots from these over the years). At the 2015 event, they held a bread tasting for a group of experienced bakers. We tasted seven breads, each made with a different locally grown wheat. For each loaf the recipe was essentially the same, with small adaptations made to create the best loaf with each flour. The varying tastes, textures, and the overall natural sweetness was a revelation. The flour made all the difference. The experience inspired my commitment to bringing more locally grown flours to the breads we make at Macrina.

SkagitWheatOne of the challenges The Bread Lab faces is that making local wheats prevalent takes more than introducing them to local bakers. Local grain economies that existed before the mass produced flours drove them out of business must be rebuilt. That includes persuading farmers to grow the grains, mills to grind them, stores to sell them and buyers to purchase them. Contributing to a healthy and sustainable local food economy is not just a good thing for Macrina to do, it’s a great thing for our bread. You just can’t beat the taste that freshly milled whole grain flours provide.

With the success The Bread Lab has experienced they’ve outgrown their small space and this past summer  relocated to a 12,000-square-foot building. King Arthur Flour is partnering with them to add a full-scale mill and educational center. The state-of-the-art facility, and the passion and knowledge of Jones and his team, is a unique treasure. We are lucky to be so close to the innovation taking place in Skagit Valley, innovation with benefits that extend through the state and beyond.


The Latest Crop in the Local Food Movement? Wheat

wheat terroir
Ripe wheat on Camas Country Mill in Central Oregon. Courtesy Tom Hunton

Modern Farmer

Until very recently, small farms have tended to avoid planting wheat because it’s not very profitable per acre. Commercially, wheat is grown in such vast quantities that it’s usually sold not by the pound but by the ton. For centuries, society has considered wheat a faceless “commodity” like iron ore or cotton, every sack anonymous and interchangeable.

But that’s all about to change. Wheat is experiencing a renaissance as chefs, food writers, and savvy consumers discover that each kernel holds a universe of long-forgotten flavors, a terroir: Wheat from one area tastes different from the wheat in another, and each varietal has a different flavor profile from the one down the road.

And when wheat is no longer treated as a high-volume/low-price commodity, small farmers can start commanding top dollar for unique grain grown in a unique way on their unique land.

Oakland, California-based pasta company Community Grains is now leading the race to bring terroir-labeled wheat products to the general retail market. A few years ago, the company experimented with a new label for a few of its pasta varieties, specifying not only the exact varietal of wheat in its fettuccine or torchiette, but exactly where it was grown—even naming the specific farm—along with the date it was harvested. The experiment got such positive feedback from customers that as of this month Community Grains is now converting its entire product line to the concept—moving forward they won’t sell any products with anonymous wheat.

“The key to good food is to de-commoditize it,” says Community Grains founder Bob Klein. “That’s why we only buy directly from two CSA farms here in California’s Capay Valley, in Yolo County. They were growing small amounts of this wonderful wheat, and people were going crazy for it, so we requested more. Now there’s a symbiotic relationship directly between the farmer and the food producer.”

But is it really possible to tell the difference between heirloom wheat hand-tended in small plots and nameless factory wheat? When you come right down to it, it’s all just … wheat, a flavor that’s always in the background, never the star. In fact, in blind taste tests, even top wine experts can’t tell different wines apart. Aren’t wheat terroirs just as indistinguishable?

No, says Dr. Stephen Jones at the Washington State University Bread Lab. As a leading expert in wheat genetics, he’s proven that different wheat strains and growing conditions do produce unique flavor profiles. “We do taste tests all the time in our lab with bakers, chefs, students, and even random visitors. People notice big differences in wheat flavor based on where it’s grown—especially when it’s fresh-milled 100-percent whole wheat. That’s where the flavors are.”

A farmer at Full Belly Farm climbs aboard the combine. Courtesy Paul Muller

Although wine connoisseurs have developed an entire vocabulary to describe the subtle aromas hidden in a glass of Zinfandel or Chardonnay, the specialty wheat dialect is still in its infancy. “Sadly, we don’t yet have terms for all the different flavors in wheat,” says Klein. “But we’re working on it.” Taste-testers at the Bread Lab have volunteered such expressions as “nutty,” “earthy,” “bright,” “chewy,” “warm,” and “gratifying.” It’s a start.

Modern American farmers did not invent the notion that specific varietals of wheat from various geographic regions have different flavors; you can trace the concept back to Italy centuries ago, where each Italian region championed the quality, texture, and taste of their own wheat pasta over all others. The recent rise of major nationally distributed pasta brands eroded the regionalism, but now Italian pasta terroir is making a comeback, too. Companies like Rustichella d’Abruzzo have begun to release pastas made exactly as they were in the 19th century, such as their “PrimoGrano” line which exclusively uses hyper-localized ancient wheat strains only discovered in the hills of the Abruzzo region; a handful of acres are harvested and processed using traditional methods to make a single batch of pasta once per year, released to connoisseurs like the rarest of wines.

Just as there is no “best” type of grape, there is no single all-purpose heritage wheat “better” than the others. Small farmers are re-discovering that ancient wheat strains, known as “landraces,” each excel in different culinary contexts: Red Fife, originally from prehistoric Anatolia but perfected in Canada, is unbeatable for bread flour, for example; Sonora Wheat, the first wheat brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors, makes the perfect tortilla; Mesopotamian Durum, the grand-daddy of them all, dating back 9,000 years, is the basis for impeccable pasta.

“I’ve grown up around wheat all my life and until recently no one has really talked about flavor. But now food writers and chefs are saying, ‘Hey, we love this wheat.’ People are finally paying attention to it. We as wheat farmers are now growing a food, not a commodity.”

When applied to wheat, the term “landrace” refers to any ancient variety cultivated so far in the past and for so long that it evolved to thrive in a specific ecosystem; nowadays these primitive types are cherished as the source of wheat’s genetic diversity, which is otherwise being lost as modern high-yield strains dominate all others. The very word “landrace” is appropriate here as well, since “land-” in this context means both “regional area” and “the ground” (while in botany “-race” means “distinctive sub-variety”), so “landrace” is the native English word closest in meaning to the French terroir.

For American farmers, the difficult part about marketing these heirloom strains is convincing consumers to give wheat a second look. You can only charge a premium for specialty wheat if customers are willing to pay. Paul Muller, co-owner of Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California—who grows the heirloom Iraqi Durum used by Community Grains to make its fettuccine—is excited about the wheat renaissance.

“I’ve grown up around wheat all my life,” Muller says, “and until recently no one has really talked about flavor. But now food writers and chefs are saying, ‘Hey, we love this wheat.’ People are finally paying attention to it. We as wheat farmers are now growing a food, not a commodity.”

At the retail end, Community Grains’ Klein feels that the word “terroir” is a bit pretentious and strives to avoid it: “Terroir is just a French marketing word that scares off average people. Instead, we use ‘Identity Preserved,’ which is a USDA designation, but we go far beyond what they require.”

Indeed, Community Grains’ “23 Points of Identity” for each box is dizzyingly detailed, documenting for customers not only the wheat’s variety and point of origin but also the alkalinity of the soil, the harvest date, each kernel’s protein content out to two decimal points, and much more, right down to the names of individual farmers working the fields.

A box of Community Grains pipe rigate, with the wheat’s farmer, farm, location, class, variety, and milled location specified. Courtesy Community Grains

Klein is convinced that the flavors of these heirloom and landrace wheat varieties are only as good as the soil in which they’re sown. “Wheat like ours from small farms tastes superior because it’s grown in very good nutrient-rich soil,” he says. “Most generic wheat, conversely, comes from nutrient-depleted soil, because in the United States we usually grow wheat where the land is cheap, which is not great nutrient-wise. The better farmland is normally reserved for more profitable crops. But wheat from good soil gives a more ‘animated’ flavor, especially in fresh-baked bread.”

WSU’s Jones agrees that wheat grown in more desirable areas produces a vastly superior grain: “With grapes, the big flavors come from intentionally stressing the vines, but with wheat we have discovered it’s the opposite—the big flavors do not come from stress but from cool and moist conditions.”

Tom Hunton of Camas Country Mill in central Oregon is spearheading the wheat terroir movement in the Pacific Northwest, not only growing specialty wheats such as Edison Hard White (described as “buttery” and “golden”) but also inviting a growing community of local grain farmers to share his new state-of-the-art stone grist mill; without this access, they’d have to sell their high-end wheat at much lower prices on the commodity market, where its terroir would be lost.

From this small cooperative beginning, Hunton has big dreams: “We desire to bring taste and flavor to as large a population as possible, at an affordable price point,” he says.“We want to move beyond food for the elite and share these phenomenal flavorful varietals with a broader audience.

Link to original article here

In Defense Of Gluten: WSU’s Bread Expert Explains His Love Affair With Wheat

NOV 19, 2016 KNKX 88.5 FM (Listen Here

Everyone’s got a favorite food. But how about a favorite crop?

Dr. Stephen Jones, director of Washington State University’s Bread Lab in Mt. Vernon, loves wheat. A lot.

“The sheer beauty of the crop in a field like this … you can almost hear the voices in it — the voices of the tradition, the voices of the people that came before us into this crop,” said Jones. “I don’t get that when I walk into a lettuce field, but I do in wheat.”

Beyond appreciating the beauty of the field, Jones directs crop breeding and research. As director of the WSU Bread Lab, he and his students want to understand how to grow better, more nutritious wheat everywhere. But even more than that, he wants to elevate wheat from a commodity to a real food — one whose flavor reflects the place and climate where it is grown.

Sound Effect’s Gabriel Spitzer went out to the WSU Bread Lab and talked with Jones about why he loves this lowly crop, and why he stands up for bread in an anti-gluten era.

NPR: The Salt: Bread Grains: The Last Frontier In The Locavore Movement

Breads baked at the Elmore Mountain Bread use freshly stone milled flour. Blair Marvin/Courtesy of Elmore Mountain Bread

Sujata Gupta

Nestled among rolling hills and grazing cows, Elmore Mountain Bread in central Vermont is quintessentially pastoral. The setting is apropos, given the owners’ recent decision to start grinding their own flour by stone — a veritable step back in time.

Blair Marvin, who co-owns the bakery and mill with her husband, Andrew Heyn, says the motivation to build the mill came from a fellow baker in North Carolina, who sent them a surprise shipment of his own freshly milled flour about four years ago. Typically, flour has an almost dusty odor, but this flour smelled earthy, Marvin recalls. “We were like, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa!'”

The couple had been thinking a lot about what they were putting into their bread. They’d recently had a baby — Phineas — whose foray into solids involved a diet heavy in baguettes. The flour they were using was organic but industrially produced. That shipment made them realize, says Marvin, “that we could control every step of the process” and create a loaf that tasted as good as the flour they were smelling.

In building their own mill, the couple joined a growing movement among bakers, chefs and pasta makers to go back to using grains pulverized the old-fashioned way. Wheat ground through a stone mill not only tastes better, argue these converts, it’s also more nutritious than conventionally milled flours. What’s more, small-scale millers tend to buy grains from farmers in the area, which supports the locavore movement.

“The milling revolution,” Marvin says, “is happening right now.”

The stone mill at Elmore Mountain Bread, which is housed in a garage just off the bakery, is as tall as the ceiling and contains a giant funnel. The grain, fed through this funnel, spills onto two 700-pound, circular granite stones, which grind anything atop it into flour.

Stone milling this way crushes and combines the wheatberry’s exterior bran, starchy endosperm and oily germ — the grain’s nutritional powerhouse — to create flour rich in fiber and omega 3s. But the presence of germ also means that the resulting flour will perish within weeks.

Monica Jane Frisell/Courtesy of Elmore Mountain Bread
Humans have milled with stones for millennia. But in the late 1880s, roller mills began to replace that older technology. Those industrial mills contained enormous spinning cylinders that sheared away the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm — aka white flour.

White roller-milled flour was nonperishable, easy to use, and meshed with consumers’ growing preference for lily white, “pure” foods, says Stephen Jones, director of the Bread Lab at Washington State University. Roller milling gradually centralized and homogenized the flour production process.

It also promoted the growth of ever larger wheat farms, which wiped out the smaller guys. But those farmers are staging a slow comeback.

Jones has been working with hundreds of farmers from Alaska to southern California to breed and grow different varieties of wheat. “You can’t just use any wheat,” Jones says. “You have to find the right variety.”

When a variety succeeds, the wheat is brought into a lab, where professional bakers try working with the product. Some wheat varieties end up being good for pizza dough or tortillas, while others are better suited for bread, Jones says. Other strains never make it past the testing stage.

Back in Vermont, Marvin found a local farmer who was growing a variety of wheat known as Redeemer. She bought his entire harvest, or about 12 tons of grain, to get started.

But worried that their new approach would alienate loyal customers, Marvin and Heyn decided to attach their mill to a sifter that could extract bran. Bread milled this way still contains the nutrient-rich germ and a bit more bran than white flour, but retains a more familiar taste and texture.

But this approach is controversial in the grain world. “Some of these millers are recreating white flour by a different name,” argues Jones, who sees a return to whole grain bread and pasta as the logical end product of stone-ground milling.

Nutritionally speaking, breads made with whole wheat flour are undoubtedly healthier than those made with white flour. But things get muddy when comparing, say, a loaf made at Elmore Mountain Bread versus a whole wheat loaf made from roller-milled flour that you might buy at the supermarket.

That “whole wheat” label at the supermarket can be misleading, because roller-milled whole wheat flour is typically made by first separating the endosperm, bran, and germ and then adding them all back together. According to Food and Drug Administration guidelines, flour can be called “whole grain” if only 51 percent of all those components are added back in. By contrast, the sifted flour at Elmore contains more than half the bran and all the germ. It’s not clear how much bran and germ commercial bread producers are adding back in (it could be 51 percent, 100 percent, or somewhere in between), but it could be less than those components in flour milled at Elmore.

Blair Marvin working with the head baker at Elmore Mountain Bread

Moreover, the roller mill’s separation step destroys many of the vitamins in the wheat layers, which remain better protected in the stone milling process.

What’s needed is a way to compare the nutritional composition of flours across the spectrum, says Josey Baker, owner of The Mill in San Francisco. “I want nutritional analyses of bread made with white flour, with sifted flour, with whole grain flour, with fresh whole grain flour.”

No matter how a baker with a mill sources their wheatberries and makes flour, making bread remains the hardest step.

Baker says his early attempts at using freshly milled flour weren’t very successful. “We had customers say, ‘What happened to your bread?’ ”

That’s because milling in-house means that a baker must decide everything from how finely to grind the flour to how much water to add for the right consistency. Recipes must be tweaked from season to season to accommodate for different varieties of wheat.

Through a lot of trial and error, Baker says he finally re-learned how to bake a loaf with great flavor and texture.

Ironically, Marvin says she only realized the new setup was working after receiving a call from a disgruntled customer, who claimed the Country French bread was “too wheaty.”

That the customer was complaining about the bread’s central ingredient, Marvin says, “was a backhanded compliment.” Sure enough, the gentleman came around to his new, wheatier loaf and remains a loyal customer. Other customers followed suit.

So, too, did bakers, who regularly frequent little Elmore to check out the mill for themselves. And then there’s Phineas, today a 5-year-old bread connoisseur who can distinguish among all those varieties of bread even if he’s still partial to the baguette.

Marvin says the milling experiment gives her hope that kids will grow up knowing that bread can be wholesome and tasty, that it’s more than “something that can be squished into a tiny ball and sit on the counter for months.”

Re-Imaging Local Grains in the Pacific Northwest

Lauren Marquardt

“Give it a name, give it a place, give it a soul, and give it a taste.”

According to Dr. Stephen Jones (pictured, right), wheat breeder and Director of The Bread Lab at Washington State University, that’s how you add value to wheat.

Around 60 people came out for American Farmland Trust Pacific Northwest’s most recent No Farms No Food Speaker Series to hear from Dr. Jones. The event was held the night before GiveBIG, The Seattle Foundation’s annual day of giving, so we were grateful to have so many people come out to learn about American Farmland Trust’s work and engage in important local efforts related to food and farming.

Dr. Jones has dedicated the majority of his life to wheat – researching wheat, growing wheat, and more recently working with distillers, brewers, and bakers to find the most nutritious and delicious wheat for their artisan craft.

Not only does Dr. Jones care about taste and nutrition, he is also passionate about supporting farmers— just like American Farmland Trust. One of his priorities is ensuring the crop yields are plentiful and the grains can thrive in the Pacific Northwest climate. This approach can have a huge impact on the local food system—attracting more mills for production, earning a profit for farmers, and increasing accessibility for consumers.

Mel Darbyshire, the Head Baker at Grand Central Bakery, also joined us and made a clear connection between consumers and The Bread Lab’s work to re-localize grain production. She is a board member for The Bread Lab and a true artist.

farmland_7716While Grand Central Bakery appears to be a small operation, it still requires over six million tons of flour to meet their baking needs. Because consumer demand for artisan bread continues to rise and the bakery uses locally sourced and sustainably farmed ingredients, they are at a point where an increase in the supply of regional grains is a necessity.

To top off the engaging evening of discussion, we were excited to share that Grand Central Bakery had specially baked loaves of bread for the audience made from regional grains! To say the bread was a hit is an understatement, and we heard many reports of the loaves not even making it home (not mentioning any names).

We applaud the work of Dr. Jones and The Bread Lab for all they are doing to support regional grain production, and encourage you to stop by Grand Central Bakery and get a firsthand taste of the power of regional grains.

2015 Seattle Rising Star Distiller Matthew Hofmann of Westland Distillery

The Pacific Northwest is home (and crucible) to a dynamic and booming distilling scene, with Seattle arguably emerging as its capital. Like many of his distilling contemporaries, Master Distiller Matthew Hofmann started at a young age, when he was still a student at the University of Washington. But his palate had awoken long before that. Growing up and going out to eat with his parents, Hofmann noticed a difference in flavor from the same meal cooked at home—and it piqued his interest. His concerns weren’t liquid-focused yet, but the idea that craft can transform a product stuck.

And though Hofmann was studying economics, he kept on distilling, eventually going to Heriot Watt University in Scotland to earn his post-grad diploma and work on his Masters thesis. Working in Scotland had great influence on Hofmann, though what he brought home wasn’t a replica of the Scottish model. At Westland Distillery Hofmann is crafting a distinct (read: revolutionary), evolving blend of classic single malt traditions using five kinds of American malt (that’s the revolutionary idea) for variety of character, fermenting with Belgian yeast for increased fruitiness, and aging in American new oak.

Hofmann, who is also the resident distiller at Steve Jone’s groundbreaking Bread Lab, doesn’t apologize for “liberties” taken. Instead he sees himself as a trailblazer in the story of American Single Malt American Whiskey. With good reason, Hofmann’s set on pitting his Single Malt against the best in the world.

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Distiller Matthew Hofmann of Westland Distillery

Read the entire StarChefs article and Matthew Hofmann interview here