Chefs, our bread is broken
In a passionate call to arms, baker Cesare Salemi begs chefs not to forget about grain when exercising their commitment to healthy, ethically produced food.
Bread has become so watered down. It’s been broken down to the point that I believe its nutritional content has been compromised. In the farm to plate movement, grain was forgotten. It didn’t get the attention that other ingredients did and let’s face it, nobody really talks about grain. As a result, a lot of people – including chefs – don’t know much about it.
There are two main forms of milling: roller and stone milling. In the roller milling process, there are generally two steel rollers; grain drops down between them and is pulverised. Certain sections of the grain are extracted and cast off before the rest is brought back up and dropped down again. This process goes on 10, 16, even 20 times until you’re left with just the endosperm of the grain, broken down into a super refined white flour.
If we take 00 flour, which is roller milled, for example, it’s generally made overseas. I know of millers in my homeland of Italy that will buy grain from Australia, Turkey, Canada and Ukraine and mix them together to get the profile of protein strengths that they want. Then they’ll pulverise the one third of the grain that’s left, the endosperm, into a super fine state and then sift that grain into a super fine powder. The more we break down and sift the grain, the less natural goodness is left. At Dust Bakery, we’re strong believers in stone milling.
Our stone mill was made in Austria and has two 75 centimetre granite stones that we press together as grain is dropped through. This means the whole grain is crushed together, so we end up with a flour that has all parts of the grain: the bran, wheat germ and of course the endosperm. Our flour is courser and a little harder to work with, but as a baker there is nothing better than the velvety feel of a freshly milled flour and the natural oils that a standard white flour just doesn’t have.
The real tragedy is that here in Australia – a nation of 25 million people – there are only about five flour millers that stone mill, but as a human race stone milled flour was all we had until the 1900s. It’s easy to see why things have changed; with our stone mill at Dust, I’ll get about 60 kilograms out of it in an hour, but with a roller mill you get tonnes. It’s about more than productivity though.
Productivity doesn’t only start at the mill. Many grains are grown for yield returns as opposed to flavour. Conventional wheat is grown and preserved with synthetic chemicals prior to being pulverised in the mill. How much life is actually left in the flour as a result? In my opinion, there is no life left. As a chef, it doesn’t really matter what you do with it – it’s already shit.
Having one mega bakery supplying bread to everyone just doesn’t work. We need diversity and we need artisan bakers and chefs to be equipped with great grains and great flours. We’ve got to create a better market for farmers to be encouraged to grow better grain. Such a large percentage of Australia’s grain is grown for international markets and that’s such a tragedy.
The wheat germ stripped off in the roller milling process is such a life-giving food that many vitamin companies use it to make their products. Mother Nature intended for us to get this nutrition in our daily bread!
So if you’re a chef and you want good quality flour, I would steer away from conventional white flours, obviously. I can’t recommend Wholegrain Milling highly enough. They stone mill and are based in Gunnedah. There’s another great mill called Whispering Pines Organic down Albury way that does its own stone milling. Four Leaf Milling is another one and there’s also Powlett Hill and Mirfak in Benalla Victoria.
To do all your production with freshly stone milled flour is very challenging, but if you’ve at least got some fresh milled flour going into your products that would be fantastic. You can blend it with some white flour and still know that you’re putting everything the whole grain has to give back into your products.
So please, as a chef, be concerned with where your meat comes from. Be concerned with where your vegetables come from, and where your seafood comes from. But also be concerned with where your grain comes from, how it was grown and what flour you’re using. Look at how you can use a flour that’s got life in it. Bread is broken. Together let’s fix it.