Gilchester’s Farm: Heritage Wholemeal Wheat
With reverence to our new website, we will intend to offer up more regular blog postings, and what better way to start, than reporting on a new flour which we are using.
Flour is obviously THE ingredient in bread, and yet it’s quality, integrity and essence are often overlooked.
Initially, we sought out organic, locally milled flour. It turned out that whilst milled locally, the grains themselves were mostly from very far away.
British wheat strains are understood to deliver weedy, weak wheat of around 8% protein, more suitable for making biscuits than bread. To meet demand for fashionable, plump, white loaves, wheat has been imported from around the world, typically Kazakstan, Australia or Canada. Imported wheat is nothing new, as early as the 9th century wheat was arriving by ship up the Thames from the Baltic to be milled and blended with our own.
Since the 1950‘s, when American wheat breeders created a high yielding dwarf wheat, the genetic diversity in wheat has been dramatically homogenised. One style of wheat now dominates, and is popular for no other reason than yield.
Grown under a highly controlled environment of pesticides, fertilisers and herbicides to deliver a maximum output. Flavour, mineral content, and the ability to grown without chemical support, are rarely selected for. Which is why we welcomed Andrew from Gilchesters Farm when he visited us recently to explain about the heritage wheat he is growing and milling at his farm in Northumberland. Having studied wheat breeding at Newcastle University, Andrew set about converting his farm to organic farming in the 1990’s and has bred a unique variety of heritage wheat strains which are suitable for the soil and climatic conditions of his farm. Thrusting their roots deep into the soil these plants absorb minerals their commercial brethren would miss out on.
Andrew has taken the step of investing in excellent quality mill stones, and trained millers and is therefore able to deliver fresh, single origin, wholemeal wheat.
We found that just mixing water with this wheat created a sourdough starter in just a few hours, whereas it can take up to 3 days with strong white wheat flour, testament to the rich microbiological populations present in this fresh flour. The other advantage of freshly milled stone ground flour is that all of the essential oils are still present making for a more flavoursome and more nutritional bread. Whilst the resulting loaf may be less plump than more cultivated alternatives, it’s far more exciting for us to work with this flour.