OUR SUMMER INTERN: a study on pastry flours

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We are a month into a 2 1/2 month long summer internship with Johnson + Wales student, Desiree Bridges. The weeks have flown by and we are all learning a ton.  Beyond exposing Desiree to the craft of milling, Ive set her to the task of a study on our pastry flours. And since my background is in bread baking, i jumped at the opportunity to learn more about our pastry flours and their various applications. 

Of course there has been a goodly amount of study and research done on the characteristics of wheat: soft wheat (pastry wheat),  hard wheat (bread wheat), and all purpose blends of the two--and we have no interest in reinventing the wheel-- but historically, the results from such work have led to improvements in variety selection or breeding or blends, milling techniques, and/or machinery. Our goal is different. We are approaching this as bakers and our objective is to discover the best application for each of our pastry flours as well as an all purpose blend. Instead of changing the ingredient to meet our recipe, we are changing the recipe to meet our ingredient: a stone ground pastry flour.

Desiree began by doing basic pie dough/long flake crust also known as pate brisee and pate sucree with each of our pastry flours: whole wheat pastry, 85Pastry (high extraction), 75Pastry, and Crema. She next moved on to doing simple vanilla cakes. We felt these two exercises would establish bookends that could define the spectrum by which we would explore the various characteristics of these flours 

Between these bookends we intend to discover our favorite application of each of these flours. In the next few weeks we will be posting recipes on our recipe blog  along with commentary as to why we chose the specific flour or favor profile for the recipe . AND-- for anyone residing in WNC-- most exciting, we've partnered with Fletcher Village Bakery on this project so that Desiree can have access to a commercial kitchen to see how these  recipes test on a production level. Stay tuned for updates on that, as she will be producing various pastries that underscore the unique character of these flours--  pastries that will be made available through Fletcher Village Bakery in the coming weeks

We are -- at the moment-- also assessing 2016 crop so we will be able to apply all of these recipes to our new crop and assess any differences. Fun fun!  

from the ground up,

jennifer

A WILDCARD Item added to our ONLINE STORE!

As a baker, one of my biggest challenges with this mill is that we are not a bakery. If we were  both mill and bakery, every mistake or oddity or learning moment for us in the mill room could be an opportunity in the bakery to produce some baked good inspired by our mistakes or waste or curious moments which we could not quite sell as flour...  But because we are not a  bakery, most of those moments just mean more sacks for the pig farmer to pick up. BUT here's where YOU come in. All of you inspired home bakers-- we want to engage you! Instead of sending our curious moments off for the pigs to eat, we've decided to add a wildcard, limited edition item to our online store -- an item which will sell out and then change into whatever oddity we produce in the mill room that we deem special enough to offer to you home bakers. 

So here we go. Our first WILDCARD item is GRAHAM FLOUR! which for us was actually a byproduct of a byproduct. And here's how we got there:  

We mill for a local brewery (Burial Brewery!) -- cracking wheat then running the cracks over screens so that the brewer does not have to contend with flour mucking up the brewing process. But the flour screened off the grain (that was cracked via the stones set at a distance apart) is not a recognizable flour. It has a loamy constancy. We ran it over a fine screen (1/3 mil) and did some bake testing and then some research, and realized we had invariable produced a graham flour via the process of gradual reduction on a stone mill then bolter. AND so we present to you GRAHAM FLOUR. And for our graham cracker recipe, http://carolinaground.com/recipes/ ! Get it while supplies last! 

Tracing our BREAD from GRAIN to LOAF

A couple years ago wintertime: We were understaffed and I was overworked. I was, for the moment, sole miller while at the same time, taking a business accelerator class which meant staying up late at night in front of a computer drawing spreadsheets of growth projections, and up early to mill. It was the end of a particularly long day of milling and all I wanted to do when I got home that evening was take a shower and crawl into bed. BUT I had committed to meeting with a visiting writer who had requested an interview about Carolina Ground, so begrudgingly I took a quick shower and headed back out into a cold and rainy night (it really was this much of a cliche). 

My mood shifted-- from exhausted introvert to alert and engaged interviewee-- because Simran Sethi asked the right questions. She was in Asheville to interview me; David Bauer of Farm and Sparrow Breads + All Souls Pizza; and Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery. We were the subjects she had chosen to inform the bread section of her (recently published) Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love (HarperOne). That evening she helped me remember-- in a moment that I needed reminding--  why I do what I do.  And now, two years later, as I read her beautifully crafted manuscript, I am again reminded of how invigorating it was to engage with Simran because it was clear to me that she was writing about more than food— that she understood that the rebuilding of a sustainable food system is larger than food. She writes Flour isn't just flour. Yes, taste and texture and variety are intrinsic to this slow climb out of the industrial commodified mess we have created, but so too, are human relationships. About our mill she writes, The ecosystem of Carolina Ground, as well as other regional growers and baker, reknit ties that globalization and industrialization have stretched thin— bringing the producer, consumer, and everyone in the middle, closer together. It offers us an opportunity for greater accountability, more intimacy and deeper connection.

Simran will be returning to Asheville next week, Thursday January 14th, 7PM,  for a reading and book signing at Malaprops Cafe and Bookstore. We will join her— myself, Jennifer Lapidus of Carolina Ground, as well as David Bauer of Farm & Sparrow Breads, Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery, and Dr David Marshall, wheat breeder, USDA. So please come out and join us for a great discussion coupled with wine and bread.

from the ground up, 

jennifer

Please Vote for Carolina Ground!

I know it's been forever since my last post, and I am sorry for that. Slowing down and telling the story is important. But since April I have been full throttle pretty literally nose to the grindstone, navigating obstacles and addressing both the challenges and opportunities presented by increased business.  We made it through another harvest and we are very happy with our 2014 crop. Growers are now getting ready to plant and we have our sites set for Carolina Ground 2.0... 

We were able to get this mill off the ground with a relatively small investment coming from various sources. And yet, this enabled us to merely pilot the idea.

Over the last two years, because of this mill, we have witnessed our bakeries shift their buying practices from purchasing their most essential ingredient from 1000 miles away, to within our region-- supporting our Carolina (and GA + VA) growers. Which means the consumer now has the ability to buy local bread; not just locally made or locally milled, but locally grown, ground, and baked. AND we've created a niche market for our large-scale organic grower-- shifting their mindset from feed-grade to food-grade crop rotations and influencing their thinking toward more diverse rotations-- which is good for the soil and for their pocket book.

We've proven that this idea was worth pursuing. And now time that we turn this endeavor into a durable business.

We've recently been presented the opportunity to expand our existing space which would enable us to increase and improve our grain storage capacity, and provide added workspace so that we can improve our mill flow, adding pneumatics for streamlining movement of both grain and flour and adding a cool room. This should enable us to increase our throughput capacity, keep our flour cooler, improve air quality, reduce the physical demands placed upon our miller, and very important-- improve our bottom-line.

And SO I stumbled upon this grant opportunity that feels like an ideal fit. The kicker is that we have to get 250 votes via Facebook by October 17th in order for us to be in the running for the actual judging of our grant proposal. We need your votes. AND pls promote this through your own social media sites so we can swiftly meet and exceed the 250 votes necessary!

Carolina Ground is an essential part of rebuilding a sustainable food system. Help us make this happen. 


Vote via link below...

https://www.missionmainstreetgrants.com/business/detail/34541


Fundraising Dinner!

A fundraising pig roast dinner will be held this Saturday, April 12th at All Souls Pizza, 175 Clingman Avenue, Asheville, NC at 6:30PM. Funds raised will go to Carolina Ground and our efforts to expand grain seed varieties for the Southeast.The pig that is to be roasted had a fine life, raised on  wheat mids-- the waste product-- from our mill.
Tickets for the dinner are $50. The dinner will be hosted by All Souls allsoulspizza.comexecuted by chef/co-owner Brendan Reusing, and served family style in the field adjacent to All Souls. Slow roasted pork, pancetta, and sausage will be featured alongside cowpeas, greens, and other savory sides. Vegetarians and meat eaters alike shall be well fed. This event will be held in conjunction with the 10th Annual Asheville Bread Festival, so expect an impressive assortment of breads and baked goods made with Carolina Ground flour from various bakeries. Desserts will be provided by Grove Park Inn, French Broad Chocolates, and West End Bakery made with CG Flour. And beer made with Riverbend Malt House malt will be poured. Riverbend is the sister company to Carolina Ground-- working to connect the farmer with the brewer in the Southeast.
Tickets are available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/607536


And another post!!

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you already know a good bit of our backstory-- that Carolina Ground Flour Mill (and it's predecessor, the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project) was very much a response to the fact the we suddenly had bread wheat varieties that could be grown in the Southeast. Dr David Marshall of the USDA-ARS based in Raleigh, began the Uniform Bread Wheat Trials back in the early 2000s and by 2008, the first varieties of bread wheats were being released, exhibiting strong disease package and yield in the field, and good performance in the bakery (see post). Dr Marshall is a public breeder and the Uniform Bread Wheat trials is a public breeding project. In a world of agribusiness where private breeds have become the norm-- GMOs taking this to a whole other level-- the ability to work with a public breeder, old school breeding (no GMOs), to launch a flour mill, and begin connecting farmer with baker-- existing outside the global commodities market/ finding real and sustainable pricing-- is a pretty extraordinary thing. Because of this mill and other similar efforts nationwide, bakeries are changing/expanding their buying practices. For us, the push to launch a regional flour mill came from our bakeries here in the Carolinas, and our story continues to unfold. The bakers have had great results with our flours. Extraordinary looking (and tasting) breads have been produced as a result of this mill (AND our growers and the fine work of our bakeries). 

But what about pastry wheat?  


North Carolina grows more soft wheat (soft wheat is pastry wheat; hard wheat is bread wheat) than any other Southern state. Most of it lands at the grain elevator, blended into obscurity, and from there, the majority heads to the feed mill. What is traditionally grown in the Carolinas is a soft RED wheat. 

We are a food grade market interested in variety, flavor profile, and performance (in the bakery). We stone grind, and so even our most sifted flours are relatively dark in color. Some months back I asked Dr Marshall about soft WHITE wheats-- lacking the tannin (and resulting bitterness) of red wheats, and he encouraged me to call Dr Paul Murphy, a soft wheat breeder at NCSU (another public breeder).  And bingo--Dr Murphy did produce a variety of soft white wheat but he said there was no market for it. I told him WE ARE A MARKET. He sent me a sample of which I shared with Riverbend Malt House. We were both satisfied, so Dr Murphy sent the 40lbs of seed he had to the Rocky Mount research station to be grown out as foundation seed. We convinced Dr Daryl Bowman of NC Foundation Seed to not spray down the seed with Storicide post harvest so we could get the seed in the hands of an organic grower. If all goes well with harvest, Looking Back Farms in Tyner, NC will get the foundation seed of this soft white wheat come June, and plant 14 acres to produce a double certified seed-- that is, certified seed that is also certified organic-- this will be a seed source for 2015 planting season. 

I was asked by Dr Murphy if we want this to be a private breed or public breed. I said definitely a public breed. It's not just about the market-- Carolina Ground-- but about the growers having various markets and that various markets decide to buy from our growers instead of importing from the Midwest.  

And so from that simple loaf of bread and our intention to close the gap between farmer, miller, and baker, we now have this. We will have expanded seed varieties that grow well in the Southeast and work well in a food grade application-- as bread, beer, spirits, miso, a pilaf... They have offered to allow us to name the variety too, so if anyone has a great idea, send it my way: carolinagroundinfo@gmail.com 

Once last thing-- we-- Carolina Ground-- are having a fundraising event dinner Saturday, April 12th at All Souls Pizza. This event is partly to raise the funds to pay for the foundation seed (that soft white wheat with no name (yet)) . Should be a great event. Click on the pig for more info and to buy tickets!! Please come.


from the ground up,
jennifer

An Update: What we've learned thus far...

Yes, it has been far too long since my last post. I have not written since wheat harvest of 2013. At that point, there was not much to say beyond the fact that it was a terrible harvest. It was one of the latest harvests on record, and a very wet one at that. There was sprouting in the field, high levels of mycotoxins, and crops that simply did not get harvested because the ground was too wet. Our wheat breeder, Dr Marshall, lost a good bit of his test plots. He said it is to be expected that once every ten years, there will be a bad harvest. This was that year. And yet, we are still here, milling forward.


And so, what we've learned thus far....


#1 Grain that looks vibrant, often is (and vice versa). 

We were lucky with our 2012 crop.  It convinced us that we could do single variety milling (most modern mills blend to spec) maintaining the provenance of the grain, variety, etc. Out the gate we had wheat that could stand alone as a whole grain or sifted product. 2013 wasn't nearly as straightforward. 


#2 Specs don't often equate.  

There are certain defined parameters that most flour mills exist within. We have milling quality standards-- lab tests reveal protein, falling numbers (a test that indicates potential sprout damage), and test weight (average weight in pounds per bushel (weight to volume))-- but regardless of what the lab numbers say, the tell-all for us is the bake test. This past harvest we had lab results that simply fell off the page, and yet some fine loaves were still produced. 
Turkey Red, TAM 303, NuEast hard red wheat harvest
Looking Back Farms, Tyner, NC

#3 Plan to have enough of the previous year's harvest on hand to buy oneself enough time to sort through the new harvest. 


I assessed the harvest available to us-- the brunt was coming from the Sandhills-- Billy Carter's farm in Eagle Springs. Lab results were okay and it performed well enough as a sifted flour, but it lacked the strength to stand alone as a whole grain flour. The grain coming off Looking Back Farms in Tyner had terrible lab results but seemed to perform well, and yet the harvest was minuscule-- not even a full truckload. I thought this would be the year we'd have to import from the Midwest. I called farmer friends in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and contacted the Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative, whose span reaches from Tennessee to Wisconsin. All the while, we were milling what grain we had. We were still working through what remained of 2012 crop. Our 2013 rye crop was in good shape and arrived just as we were finishing up 2012 rye. When we milled the last of our 2012 wheat, we shifted gears. The best of the lot-- Looking Back's wheat-- was devoted solely to whole wheat flour; Carter's crop would be used for our sifted flours. This was the plan until Looking Back's wheat ran out. And at that point, no solid plan was in place. I just wasn't ready (or quite willing) to commit to importing wheat. 





I literally found myself counting the totes while counting down the weeks... and then the days. I knew I needed to make a decision. Do we import? Carter Farms still had two more truckloads of wheat in the bin--  about what we needed to make it through the year, but could the bakers work with this wheat as a whole grain flour (the brunt of what we mill)? 
Ive always felt that beyond connecting our farmers with our bakers, our charge has been to produce the highest quality product-- fresh flour, cold stone milled-- a flour of provenance AND of quality. Quality has to exist, or we may easily find ourselves in the ranks with other 'local' products we all secretly wish were coming from California (Napa Valley, that it..).
I finally milled some of Carter's wheat into whole wheat flour and distributed samples amongst some of my favorite local bakers-- Dave Workman of Flat Rock Village Bakery, Tara Jensen of Smoke Signals Bakery, Dave Bauer of Farm and Sparrow Bakery and Cathy Cleary of West End Bakery to perform bake tests  All four bakers came back with the same feedback which equated to a resounding thumbs up! This flour had received a thumbs down a few months earlier, so we-- including grower Billy Carter-- were all very excited to witness the improvement.

#4 Yay! Grain improves with age!


Stickboy Bread Company, Boone, NC
Chicken Bridge Bakery, Pittsboro, NC

Independent Baking Company, Athens, GA
La Farm Baery, Cary, NC

On Flavor


The idea for the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project (NCOBFP), the grant-funded project that led to the launch of Carolina Ground, L3C, came in the wake of the 2008 spike in the price of wheat, where at its worst, the cost of the baker’s most essential ingredient rose as much as 130%. What was later termed the Wheat Crisis was, at the time, a rude awakening for the baker who was hit with a flour price that far exceeded what could be passed along to the consumer for a loaf of bread. It became all too clear that the disconnect between the baker and farmer was unsustainable and that closing the gap between the farmer and baker was the necessary next step in (re)building a sustainable food system in the Carolinas. And so, centered upon the growing consumer demand for local (a demand that has proven itself recession-proof) we plowed ahead and NCOBFP was set in motion with funding from the NC Tobacco Trust Fund and Santa Fe Tobacco. 

Fast forward five years-- Carolina Ground is milling Carolina grown bread wheat, pastry wheat, and rye-- connecting the farmer with the baker. And we are part of a growing movement.  But local grain to flour is different from a local tomato when it comes to appealing to the masses, as a recent article in Slate entitled, Going Against the Grain states, “Local produce has found a market beyond hard-core environmentalists because of its taste...whether rice or wheat comes from across the ocean or across the road has little impact on its flavor.”

It’s an interesting point, and there is some truth to it, but there’s more of the story to tell.

Hand-in-hand with this burgeoning regional grain movement has been the resurgence of stone milling. Rewind 100+ years and one would have seen our county’s landscape dotted with stone-burr gristmills. For thousands of years grain was processed into flour between stones, up until the late 1800s when, as Thom Leonard, baker and author of The Bread Book explains, “the stone age[ ]at last ceded to the age of steel.” The advancement of milling technology-- from stone-burr gristmill to roller mill-- a technology which employs steel rollers that strip away and separate the three components of the wheat berry-- germ, bran, and endosperm--  not only brought speed and efficiency to the processing of grain to flour but it made for a shelf stable product, as it is the oils contained within the germ that causes rancidity in flour, and in the roller milled product, the germ is completely removed; hence, the centralization of the milling and growing of wheat. But what was also removed with this method of milling was FLAVOR. 

The very fact that we are local enables us to process our grain to flour in a method that preserves the nutrients and emphasizes the flavor of the wheat. Because we are local, we have little concern with shelf life. We stone grind our flour and we embrace the idea that a local loaf of bread can carry the flavor of our region. 

from the ground up, 
jennifer lapidus

that simple loaf of bread?


Wheat harvest is upon us and in this moment-- pre harvest-- if feels as if the dice are suspended in the air and we-- the farmer, miller, and baker-- are simply waiting for them to land. 

What do we millers and bakers hope for? Quality wheat with good baking performance! 

But what quality characteristics equate to good baking performance and how is the miller to determine if a lot of wheat deems worthy of purchasing from a farmer?

To begin with, on the farmer’s end-- beyond yield-- the first measure of his/or her grain is test weight. Test weight is a good overall indicator to both farmer and miller as to the quality of the wheat, as it measures the density-- or how filled out the grain kernel is. It also may indicate-- if low test weight is detected-- the presence of diseased kernels. Grain is accounted for in bushels, which is a volume measurement, and a bushel of wheat is about 60 lbs (though this may vary a bit with the variety). In general, 56 lb. test weight of unclean grain is the minimum acceptable test weight for a miller. Low test weight can be caused by poor growing conditions, disease, or sprout damage. Cleaning grain, especially running it over a gravity table, can increase test weight by vetting damaged and diseased kernels.

The next test a farmer’s grain must undergo is testing for mycotoxin deoxinivalenol (DON), also known as vomitoxin. DON (or vomitoxin) is caused by the Fusarium fungus commonly known as head blight. Cool wet weather around flowering time can threaten even an extraordinary stand of wheat. High levels of vomitoxin can be visibly detected in a field by a pink hue over the crop. When ingested, high levels can cause vomiting and diarrhea in humans and livestock. The FDA has set a maximum DON guideline of 1ppm for human consumption, but to many a miller the acceptable threshold for organic human food grains is essentially zero. On the farm end, if Fusarium is identified, the grower can reduce levels in a crop by turning the air up on his or/her combine at harvest to blow out the lighter, diseased kernels. Post harvest, the grain should be cleaned well, especially run over a gravity table. Good crop rotations and seeking resistant varieties of wheat can also help alleviate future disease pressure. And of course, hopes and prayers for good weather never hurt.

Yet another test wheat is subjected to if said crop hopes to land with a miller (and into a loaf of bread) is falling numbers. A falling numbers test determines the level of enzymatic activity in a lot of grain, and in doing so indicates whether there has been (pre harvest) sprout damage to the crop. Heavy sprout damage can be extremely problematic to the baker, as flour made with this grain will have reduced mixing strength, produce sticky dough, and affect a loaf’s volume and shelf life. A small amount of heavily sprouted grain-- as low as 5%-- mixed with a lot of sound grain may deem the whole lot unacceptable for a baker. 
On the farm end, sprout damage becomes a threat with the onset of wet weather around harvest. Certain varieties of wheat are more susceptible than others, with white wheats being more susceptible than red wheats. 
The falling numbers test measures the number of seconds a plunger takes to fall through a slurry of flour. The less viscous the slurry, the greater the enzymatic activity (the enzyme-- alpha-amylase-- is starch degrading) and the quicker the plunger will fall. (High enzymatic activity is the indicator of the sprouting process, btw.) The falling number is the number of seconds the plunger takes to fall. Falling numbers of 300 and above are deemed sound wheat. 200 and below are unacceptable for a mill.  Somewhere in the range of 250 to 300 are usually the minimums set by flour mills. 

And still more tests! The baker needs quality protein. Gliadins and glutenins are the gluten-forming proteins in wheat that enable the baker to make a leavened, lofty, loaf of bread. These proteins provide the extensibility and elasticity to dough. While testing for protein in wheat does provide a measurement of wheat’s quality, it is still quite possible to have a high protein number and yet poor quality wheat or the other way around-- a low pro number with high quality performance. The protein number is somewhat one dimensional and so without a bake test and/or the use of a farinograph (lab equipment which measures extensibility, elasticity, and water absorption of dough) it is difficult to fully determine the quality of wheat. Although diverse crop rotations aimed at building soil fertility, well timed field application of nutrients, seed variety choice, and good weather all factor in when it comes to producing a quality crop of wheat.

And lest we forget the quality of the baker. From the miller's end, we can convey part of the story--what we received from the grower (the falling numbers, protein, test weight, hardness), the variety that was planted, who grew it and where-- and how and when it was milled. But we leave it to the baker to engage with their flour. Each baker will approach his or her dough differently-- fermentation times vary as do mix times, leavenings, and ovens. The baker too will interact with the weather-- ambient humidity, heat, cold -- and with each season, a new crop. 

And so that simple loaf of bread-- of wheat, water, and sea salt; sun, soil, and rain-- is not so simple after all. 

from the ground up,
jennifer lapidus 

Has it really been this long since my last post....


Has it really been close to 6 months since my last post?? Ugh. Well, it's been fairly busy on this end-- making flour, expanding our markets, building our website (check us out at carolinaground.com), continuing our work to rebuild the local food system for grains and other crops in rotation...  Okay, after that last statement I  feel a little justified for this lapse in time, although I am determined to post more often....

We just received another truckload of wheat from grower Billy Carter of Eagle Springs, NC. Billy’s grain bin is now empty, with a nice window of time to get thoroughly cleaned out, and remain grain free until harvest, which is a little more than a month away. This is good for Billy and his grain, as it is one part of a larger strategy the organic grower hopes to employ in addressing the ever present threat of granary weevils. Because the organic grower cannot simply spray down his (or her) grain and bin with Storicide or similar insecticide, the approach must be to avoid infestation through vigilance in harvest, cleaning, and handling of grain, as well as a nice dose of food-grade diatomaceous earth mixed in with the grain (one pound per ton of grain).

In an ideal world, all our Carolina organic grain growers will have sold all of their grain by March or early April and all the bins would sit empty. In this ideal world, we would be importing very little if not zero grain from the midwest. All of our breads, pastries, miso, beer and spirits would be made from our growers’ grain. The threat of weevils would be reduced because grain would be in constant flow (not still sitting in the bin until right before the next harvest.)

Although we have not yet achieved that ideal scenario, we’re thrilled to have received another truckload of wheat from Billy, and to be the reason his bin is empty. Our bakers love the flour made from the grain grown on his fields.  And we love our bakers and our growers.

Here’s to kneading local!


from the ground up,
Jennifer Lapidus

Holiday Bazaar-- Noon to 4pm tomorrow on UNCA campus

Come look for our flour tomorrow at the Holiday Bazaar (hosted by the North Asheville Tailgate market) on the UNCA campus from noon-4pm.
Also, we are taking orders at the bazaar for larger-- 5#, 10#, and 25# -- sizes to be delivered at the following week's bazaar. Come get your local flour for holiday baking!

Carolina Ground flour available for sale to the public!



Carolina Ground flour will be available for sale to the public at the 10th annual Holiday Bazaar, Saturday Dec 1, 8, 15, & 22, on the UNCA campus from Noon-4


If your following this blog, you likely realize that closing the distance between the farmer and baker is a key piece to the re-localization of a sustainable foods system. It took us over three years of work, but we finally launched Carolina Ground, our micro milling facility linking Carolina grain growers with Carolina bakers. And here at Carolina Ground, we are not only closing the gap between farmer and baker (since most bread grain/flour is shipped in from a good 1000 miles away), but we're doing so in the spirit of artisan food craft. Carolina Ground employs a process known as ‘cold milling’ to produce intact flours-- bread, pastry and rye flour, whole grain and sifted-- that are both nutrient rich and flavor forward

We've been selling our flour to Carolina bakeries since April, but getting our product out to you, the general public, has not really been happening until now...or at least right now, this month, for the holiday season. [Drum roll please....] 

Carolina Ground flours will be available for sale to the public at the 10th annual Holiday Bazaar, (hosted by the North Asheville Market) on the UNCA campus, starting this Saturday, December 1, from noon-4, and continuing every Saturday throughout the month of December heading up to Xmas: Dec 1, 8, 15, & 22, from noon-4.

Manning the table at the Bazaar is our very own Tara Jensen (our newest hire!), who also owns and operates Smoke Signals Bakery  producing beautiful laminate dough pastries and naturally leavened breads made with Carolina Ground flour! She will be selling her lovely baked goods alongside our flour. (And I've heard rumors that in another week or two the Riverbend Malt House may be joining us at our table with some home brew kits for sale.)

from the ground up,
jennifer


Of Carolina ground

A month since my last post...  I was readying myself for a trip to the Triangle to promote our flour, was reflecting deeply on the challenges we face with this mill, and that very process of blogging convinced me to head into the bakery (before heading to the Triangle). I exchanged coveralls and respirator (miller's garb) for apron and headscarf (the baker!), fed cultures, fired oven, and mixed dough. Working with new crop TAM 303, a hard red winter wheat grown in Moore county by Billy Carter, blended with Appalachian White, a hard white winter wheat grown in Mt Ulla by Buddy Hofner, I tested two flours: whole wheat and Type 80 (20 parts sifted out)-- so this was a blend of two different wheats-- a red wheat and a white wheat-- milled whole grain (whole wheat), and sifted. With the whole wheat I made pita, hearth loaves, and pan loaves. With our Type 80, I made focaccia, hearth loaves, and pan loaves. I had not had my hands in dough for a couple years, so I was a bit nervous as to how this would play out, but the doughs came together well, felt pliant and easy to work with. I realize that in my bakery I have the benefit of working with long slow ferments, mixing by hand, and being the sole baker. These flours responded well to my techniques. But I am reminded of the Rumi quote which I have always associated with baking: There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth. No two bakeries are alike.  Their techniques vary from straight doughs (yeasted), to sponge with a pinch of yeast, to solely natural leavenings. And within each technique, there are a variety of ways to get there. And most of the bakeries have production teams, not sole bakers. What I have heard from the bakers is that in their production cycle, the NC flours display certain characteristics unique to these flours. [I intend to interview a couple bakers in future posts to get their words, verbatim.] But when tended to properly, the results have been wonderful. The rye flour seems to be an easy win for all the bakeries, although the color is darker than many are used to, the flavor is extraordinary. And really, this uniqueness that we are discovering, is this not the very definition of the term terrior?  That unique quality conveying the flavor and texture of place, of Carolina ground.

So one of the exciting developments that resulted from my trip to the Triangle was an order for 2000lb of flour (whole wheat and rye) that went out to La Farm Bakery in Cary. If you reside in the Triangle and would like to taste the terrior of NC in a well crafted loaf of bread, head to the NC State Fair where La Farm is set up within the North Carolina Education Building through Sunday.

from the ground up,
jennifer






We just received our first truckload of 2012 Wrens Abruzzi Rye (from grower Billy Carter/ Moore Co) and Turkey Red and NuEast wheat  (from growers father/son duo, Kenny and Ben Haines/ Chowan Co). We’ve almost emptied our last totes of 2011 rye and hard red winter wheat, so watching our mill room fill back up feels like the natural ebb and flow of this mill, reflective of the seasons. Planting is just a couple months away. We  must assess our acreage and variety needs for 2013. 

One of the many challenges we face with this project is that as a pioneering effort, we have no wave to ride or example to follow. Back when I was a baker, it seemed all I had to do was bake the best bread out there, and the business would succeed. Everyone eats bread. Bread sells. Selling flour is not quite that simple. Comparing our flour to that of the milling industry is like comparing apples to peaches, in that both are fruit, both are round, but they are different species all together. Our wholegrain flours are extraordinary. The 48 inches that span our stones create a fine flour with a uniform consistency. And yet, the brunt of what most bakeries use is not whole grain flour. I tell the bakers, when offering samples of our sifted flour-- a stone ground flour whose germ is crushed into the endosperm, spreading its oils, nutrients, and flavor, with just the larger bran sifted out-- that this beige flour is the flour that those recipes that call for both whole wheat and white flour are trying to recreate. We chose stone because we saw no better way to showcase these regionally produced grains than cold milling between stone-- preserving both nutrients and flavor, and conveying a taste of our region. We are a  tradition of a different time and a different place, so finding our place here and now is part of the work necessary in rebuilding a unique sustainable local food system. 

The other day, a lead baker at one of the larger bakeries we are working with pulled me and Stewart (our new hire/miller-in-training) aside to show us the hamburger buns he’d made with our Type 55 bread flour (45 parts sifted out). Said baker was elated. The quality of this flour had him. He was able to use a half ounce less dough in each bun and achieve the same size through loft. The flavor was pronounced. His eyes sparkled as he described working with the dough made from this flour. He said, now this is quality. And yet this flour-- the more refined flour we are producing-- is a hard stretch in terms of price point for a larger bakery. And so sadly he only gets to play with the samples I offer up to him for experimentation. We, as a craft mill, are hard pressed to compete with the speed and efficiency of the milling industry’s roller milling technology. But we are not trying to be that ‘white flour.’  We are something all together different. We have opted for quality above quantity, and still, we face the challenge of defining ourselves, finding our niche, and simply moving product. 

Next week I travel to the triangle region to meet with various bakeries that have shown interest in supporting NC grain growers.You readers out there from the triangle region, look out of our ‘made with Carolina Ground Flour’ signage we hope to be placing in various bakeries (and restaurants) in the triangle region. And if you don’t see our brand, ask your baker to support this effort. 

From the ground up,
jennifer lapidus


Our first hire!

It's been an entire month (plus) since my last post. A few posts ago I vowed to post more often, since I'm finally milling and regular updates seemed the stand up thing to do-- more pictures of bread, reports from the bakers, a bird-eye view of grain to flour-- but carving out the time to tell the story has not been so easy, and the story has not been that simple.
A lot has happened over the last month. At the top of the list is the exciting news that Carolina Ground pulled off its first hire-- Stewart Wedthoff. A journeyman electrician and former employee of the  Square D plant (we are located in the former Square D plant), Stewart offers mechanical insights as well as a desire to learn the craft of milling.
Up to this point it has just been me (other than the council I continue to seek from bakers, farmers, board members, investors, and CFSA staff) running this dog and pony show-- grain to flour, bookkeeping, marketing, outreach, and a goodly amount more. Hiring Stewart has meant Carolina Ground can grow, and not simply in sales, but in substance. Right now we are building our foundation-- we are the bones-- and with our weekly friday sit down meetings we bring to the table not just maintenance schedules, procedural policy, and efficiency in production-- since at this point we are heavily relying on manpower-- but we also recognize that this level of production has enabled us to remain quite intimate with our product. We acknowledge the value of this (or looked at from the other direction-- what do we lose when we become more mechanized?) And of course this begs the bigger question of defining ourselves-- as industry, manufacturing of a wholly different sort, this new wave a manufacturing where quality pulls us forward. The numbers, spreadsheets, actuals and projections make a very clear case for quantity over quality, and as a responsible business person, I cannot discount the value of a viable business. And so, what does this new model look like? Efficiency is key. No argument there.  The larger mills bring in 6 or 9 or lord knows how many truckloads of grain a day to be industrially processed into flour-- highly mechanized, highly efficient, albeit lacking soul or substance. As a burgeoning movement in regional grain production and processing, there are not too many of us out there to compare to. Of the few, I have observed the range from close to a million dollar investment in infrastructure to a few thousand dollars and a case of duct tape. We see ourselves as somewhere in the middle. And so this part of our story is just beginning-- with a focused effort, a thin budget, and Stewart's mechanical intelligence-- we seek to attain a respectable level of efficiency while continuing to preserve the quality that must be the signature of this mill.
There's a lot more to say about the last month of Carolina Ground, but I am told to keep blog posts short-- that people don't like to read. Though I am not sure I believe that or want to contribute to this trend, I do need to get off this computer and call our farmer. We are waiting on lab test results, crossing out fingers that though the yields were low (more on that in a later post), the quality will be good.
But one last a very, very important piece I need to report. Going back to how we pulled off this first hire-- we are excited to report that the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina (CFWNC) has award CFSA $25,855 grant for staff support for Carolina Ground. This investment is meant to provide us with the bridge of support as the mill becomes self-sustaining. This funding comes from the foundation's Food and Farming Initiative. Carolina Ground meets several of the goals of CFWNC's Food and Farming Initiative, including revitalizing a NC-based grain economy, supporting the profitability of bakeries and artisan bakers, encouraging the development of a food system that values local food and offers employment opportunities, and promoting and supporting an emerging community-based project.
We are so pleased to be partnering with the Community Foundation of WNC on this project and look forward to achieving our mutual goals.

From the ground up,
Jennifer Lapidus

harvest

Billy Carter's wheat has been cut. Fred Miller is harvesting now. And here's a picture (above) of our turkey wheat which Looking Back is planning to harvest by early next week (barring weather). Below is a picture of that wheat shortly after it was sown. I took the picture (below) when I was visiting the Haines in December. Kenny just sent me the above shot of what it looks like six months later.

2012 wheat harvest begins


2012 wheat harvest has begun. Grower, Kenny Haines informed me yesterday that Billy Carter of Carter Farms in the Sandhills of NC began cutting his TAM 303 this past weekend. TAM 303, though a sad moniker for this regionally adapted hard red winter (bread) wheat (one of USDA-ARS wheat breeder Dr David Marshall’s varieties), was the first of the wheats that our bakers tried when the prospect of working with NC grown grains first surfaced. It’s been over three years since that initial meeting when us bakers pulled chairs into a circle and began discussing the concept of working directly with NC growers. Outside the confines of our bakeries, where fermentation times, hydration, and dough performance rule,  we could entertain the idea-- the possibility-- of working with bread flour grown in the Carolinas. That first meeting took place just after the profound spike in the price of wheat-- later coined the 2008 Wheat Crisis-- which was a big impetus for us,  pushing us to consider stepping outside our comfort zone and take a good long look at our reliance on commodity flours. Even still, it was not until we actually tried the flour made with NC-grown TAM 303 that the momentum for this project gained ground. And now here we are, this many years later, actually doing it. 
Kenny said our Turkey wheat (a heritage variety) and NuEast (another of Dr Marshall’s regionally adapted modern varieties) are just turning from green to a golden hue. Once harvested, samples of the grain will be tested for protein, falling numbers (a test that indicates if there is any level of sprout damage), micotoxins, moisture, and test weight. Joe Lindley, of Lindley Mills in Graham, NC, has offered to do thorough lab testing on the grain. I want to give a big thank you to Joe for this offer, as he continues to show his commitment to NC growers and bakers alike. He is producing an NC-grown TAM 303 roller-milled flour, a foundational flour which is the perfect compliment to the stone ground flours Carolina Ground is turning out. We certainly have it good here in the Carolinas.
from the ground up,
Jennifer Lapidus

We're Milling!

bread from Annies Bakery made with our whole wheat Turkey wheat
the mill in action
samples headed for area restaurants
aren't they cute! baby mills!!Billy Carter farm in Eagle Springs, NC. Our rye (Wrens Abruzzi) in the foreground and TAM 303 wheat in the background.

Things take place instantaneously, but there's a long process to be gone through first.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

We are actually making flour. Yes, we are milling! Flat Rock Village Bakery, West End Bakery, and Annies Bakery are our first bakery customers, and Over Easy Cafe is our first restaurant. In fact, Over Easy is featuring a pancake this month using our flour (and I hear they're selling like hot cakes!)
It's amazing how simple it is to take grain and mill it into flour. When we conceived of this idea-- a mill that could connect bakers with farmers in the Carolinas-- it seemed like such an obvious thing to do. Why was no one else already doing this? But of course pretty quickly I discover all of the obvious reasons why. It's not nearly as simple as apples to apple sauce, and yet once we got there-- clean grain that meets the parameters of a baker-- grain to flour is so simple.
I think it worth mentioning-- since it took us from mid-February to mid-March to simply get the mill mechanics operative-- that some of the challenges we were presented with in launching this mill had to do with the lack of manufacturing in this country and the deficiency that this has caused in terms of skill level in our population. It was really difficult for us to find someone who could help us with our motor-- someone who understood the mechanics of a large (15 hp) motor and the frequency and the Rpms and how all of this interacts and relates to the speed of the grind (because the mill originally had a European motor on it). So now, we not only have the mill running-- which means we are rebuilding local manufacturing-- but we have also honed the skills of those around us, and (I think/hope) engaged their interest.
Anyways, I am going to attempt to post more-- to let you all know how this unfolds. Not just grain to flour, but flour to bread and pancakes and however else our amazing bakers and restauranteurs use our flour.
from the ground up,
jennifer

8th Annual Asheville Artisan Bread Festival

So we are finally at the place where we expected to be (months and months ago)-- which is at the interesting realm of problem solving/tweaking that is specific to this kind of start up-- how to get the machinery running properly, determining the most efficient and effective flow, and for us right now-- how to keep flour dust from flying in our faces-- literally. But we’re at least thankful that we are actually able to make the flour dust that is flying in our face. [The reason for the dust-in-face-situation seems to have something to do with changing over from European motor to US motor and from European 50Hz frequency to US 60Hz frequency and how this boils down to RMPS which seem to be resulting in a 44% stronger ventilating current running through the machine. Ja´n our technical advisor at Osttiroler (the make of our mill) in Austria explains, the wind pulls the flour out from between the stones, cools the flour and throws the flour out, but because of our increased ventilating current, it is throwing the flour with increased velocity. The upside is that this is a solvable problem void of personality, politics, or red tape.]

While we are working on getting the kinks out of the system, bakers are gearing up for the 8th Annual Asheville Artisan Bread Festival which will take place on Saturday, March 24th. The theme of this year's festival is “Local Grain, Local Flour, and Local Bread.” Thom Leonard, a professional baker for more than 35 years, and currently a consultant for Heartland Mills, will be presenting workshops on milling and baking with local wheat. Professor Stephen Jones, a world-renowned wheat geneticist and breeder from Washington State University, will be lecturing on the local-grain movement and recent results in the breeding of organic grain and a perennial wheat.

In addition to Leonard and Jones, we will be presenting at the mill, and sharing the stage with Sharon Burns-Leader of Bread Alone Bakery, a highly esteemed bakery in New York that has made a strong commitment to using local NY-grown flour. Dr Jones will also join in the conversation with tales of folks nationwide reclaiming their local grain economy.

For more info: http://www.ashevillebreadfestival.com/

Main Street

I was in Pittsboro a couple days ago for a CFSA staff meeting. During our meeting, I wrote the words, “slow money” on my hand to remind me to contact our slow money lender as soon as I returned to Asheville to give her an update on the mill. We closed our meeting with a group lunch at Angelina’s Kitchen, http://www.angelinaskitchenonline.com/. The food was amazing—fresh, local, flavorful-- and the atmosphere felt more like a community center than a restaurant. During lunch I looked down at the words on my hand and then remembered reading about Angelina’s Kitchen in the Abundance Foundation’s website, http://slowmoneync.org/our-loans. This place had received one of NC Slow Money’s first loans. I mentioned this to our group and Angelina, who happened to be sitting one table away doing paperwork, chimed in. She said that getting a slow money loan was so much more than just getting a loan. It was building community. Her small business loan came from real people. Her lenders chose to invest in her business because she adds something to this community—and so everyone benefits. She and her husband have their business; Pittsboro gets this wonderful restaurant; and she is supporting local growers, buying their produce, meat, cheese, and even flour. And she dishes up the most delectable food.

When I told her that our mill, Carolina Ground, L3C had recently received the first Western NC Slow Money loan, she lit up. With brimming enthusiasm she told us how she had gotten rye flour that had been grown by Bobby Tucker and milled by baker Abraham Palmer of Box Turtle Bakery, http://www.boxturtlebakery.com/. And then she disappeared, swiftly reappearing with slices of apple cake made with this flour for all of us to taste. Delicious.

Yesterday I called our lender. I told her we had hoped to be milling by now, but had hit an obstacle having to do with electrical, though we’re addressing it and hope to be milling soon enough. We had planned on beginning the first payment on our slow money loan this month, as it is the first of the year. I told her I still wanted to go ahead and make our first payment. She thanked me for calling. She said it meant so much to her that I was keeping her abreast of our progress. And she said she was not attached to beginning payment in January-- that getting this mill off the ground is what matters most right now.

This is what it looks like when we move our money from Wall Street to Main Street.