Subtitle: In which I go all wheat-geek on you guys
So I went on a wheat farm tour, thanks to Shepherd’s Grain Flour. SG is a local, no-till (more on that later) wheat cooperative, and the tour was awesome. I was geeking out learning all about wheat farming, but I know that as exciting as it was to see in person, it wouldn’t translate well to a blog. Then I tasted the different wheat kernels and was fascinated by all the various flavors that were perceptible and began to compose a post in my head. I was ready to invite the world over to taste these various wheat kernels. Then I baked with the flour.
I’m hoping the sunlight when I took this photo adequately conjures up the sounds of angels singing as the clouds part. I used the flour from Shepherd’s Grain to make the same bread I always make. The same recipe (from Mark Bittman’s ‘How to Cook Everything) that I’ve made so many times I could do it with my eyes closed. The loaf of bread I removed from the oven, though? It was not the same as all those others. Seriously, this was an amazing loaf of bread. This flour, it is great flour. Sure, it could have been the day, the alignment of the moon or any number of other variables, but the obvious one is that this flour was far more amazing than I could have imagined.
Prior to realizing that the flour was going to be so good for baking, I was already excited about it, after learning about the no-till method that the farmers use–essentially a sustainable method that is gentler on the land than conventional methods. I know a lot of the food-nerdy things I found fascinating when hearing about them from the farmers aren’t that interesting on your screen, but I will say that these men were passionate about the wheat they grow and the land that it grows on. One displayed to us the charter his great-grandfather got for the land that he still farms. Another encouraged us to pick up the soil and smell it, then showed us the difference between that and conventional (tilled) soil. While all of the farmers inherited their land from family and then converted it to no-till, three of the four farmers who spoke to us were going to pass on their farm to someone outside of the family.
Each of the farmers was surprisingly blunt about their use of chemical weed killers, which, to someone long imbued with the ‘organic’ mind set, I found disorienting. The upshot, they said, was this method permits a healthier soil, in terms of long term sustainability, versus tilling and being able to use fewer chemicals.
At one of the four farms that we visited, the farmer spoke to us about four of the varieties of wheat they grow, and we were given a chance to taste the kernels. The soft white, used to make pastry flour was, indeed, soft and white. The hard red winter wheat was, well, harder, and just a little bitter. The dark northern spring wheat, however, was the one that really amazed me. Each kernel I popped into my mouth, like snack food or popcorn was full of flavor, just a little bit nutty, and really quite complex. So it made sense that these flavorful flours made such delicious bread.
Overall the tour was an amazing education experience, touring the farms, drinking local beer (great beer!) from a local brewery in Reardan, WA, eating pizza, muffins and cupcakes made with the flour from farms that we went to, hearing the story of how Shepherd’s Grain convinced a large national wheat mill to separate and isolate these special grains. Thank you to everyone at and involved with Shepherd’s Grain!
If you’re looking to get this flour for yourself, look for Stone-Buhr, they currently package it for consumer retail, but you can find lots of local companies using the flour, including, but not limited to Pink’s, Cupcake Royal and Molly Moon.