Leading retail bakeries like San Francisco-based Tartine are loving the new options of specialty grains and flours available in the marketplace. One specialty grain blend that Tartine uses is Camas Country Mill’s Organic Three Sisters Porridge, a mixture of purple karma barley, gazelle rye and streaker oat flakes. Tom Hunton, owner of Camas Country Mill, which operates a stone mill in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Kevin Morse, chief executive officer of Cairnspring Mills, which focuses on European-style bread flours, see a bright future ahead for local grains.

At the recent International Artisan Bakery Expo (IABE), Cairnspring Mills, based in Burlington, Washington, exhibited locally milled flours made with Edison hard white spring wheat and Skagit 1109 hard red winter wheat. Cairnspring Mills uses a unique roller mill/stone mill hybrid because of the way the stone mill incorporates the wheat germ into the flow and brings those flavors into the finished product. Their milling process involves multiple steps: tempering the wheat, a roller break, then to the stone mill, and finally a sift at the end prior to the finished flour.

Hunton of Camas Country Mill has been using stone mills for more than six years. Much of what is milled and packaged at Camas Country Mill comes direct from owner Tom Hunton’s third generation family farm, located southwest of Junction City, Oregon. Hunton’s Farm was started in 1952 at the current farm headquarters by Everett and Ellen Hunt. “His primary product is whole grain flour. We focus on European-style flour,” says Morse.

Similar trends are developing across the country. Newly formed 4 Generations Organic, based in Alva, Oklahoma, features “estate grown” hard red wheat grown in Oklahoma and used by innovative bakeries such as Bellegarde Bakery in New Orleans.

Bellegarde opened in 2013 providing freshly stone-milled flour and the best bread to restaurants across Louisiana. Today, the bakery works with more than 100 restaurants and markets across the state including James Beard winners/finalists and restauranteurs Alon Shaya (Saba), Nina Compton (Compere Lapin, Bywater American Bistro), Justin Devillier (La Petit Grocery, Balise), Isaac Toups (Toups Meatery, Toups South), Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus (Coquette), and top retailers including Whole Foods and Rouses.

“Bread at Bellegarde is made entirely by hand using only the best and freshest ingredients,” says Graison Gill, owner of Bellegarde. “We purchase most of our grains and baking ingredients directly from the people who make them — whether that’s salt from Avery Island, olive oil from Texas Olive Ranch or our heirloom corn, which has been grown by the same family in Alabama since 1875. We mill our flour fresh, unlike any other bakery in the region, to ensure that our customers receive the best products made with local ingredients, lots of nutrition and even more flavor.”

Chocolate Babka is a beloved product at Manresa Bread.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Manresa Bread is a neighborhood bakery led by partner and head baker Avery Ruzicka. The bakery was conceived in the kitchen of Chef David Kinch’s three-Michelin-star Manresa restaurant. Ruzicka mills 90% of the grains — primarily local — in house and sources high-quality artisanal ingredients. Manresa Bread has San Francisco Bay Area brick-and-mortar locations in Los Gatos and Los Altos, and an all-day cafe in Campbell, California. The breads and pastries are also available at the Palo Alto farmers’ market, at Verve Coffee locations in Northern California, and through national shipping.

Manresa Bread’s new all-day cafe menu features an expansion of offerings, from Ruzicka’s beloved house-milled sourdough breads as toasts and sandwiches to small plates and composed dishes, each incorporating a bread element. Guests can also enjoy laminated pastries, artisan loaves, and seasonal specialties like chocolate hazelnut panettone, chocolate walnut babka and Breton-style kouign amann.

“The new mill is something we are learning about,” Ruzicka says. “Now you can put 300 pounds of grain in a hopper at one time, and an hour later (depending on the grain) have 300 pounds of flour.”

In Chicago, head baker Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread is dedicated to sustainable practices through membership and working with members of the Artisan Grain Collaborative. The AGC along with Greg’s help are working to preserve heritage whole grain varieties for baking bread that is better for the body. With the growing number of people afflicted with gluten sensitivities, the popularity of these select grains has risen due to their ability to be enjoyed without the typical side effects that people normally associate with eating bread. 

Greg Wade was the 2019 winner of the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Baker award.

Wade’s recent creation, Janie’s Bread, is a delicious example of his mission. Taking a painstaking approach to crafting his bread and partnering with respected Midwest purveyors, Greg has collaborated with Harold Wilken (farmer at Janie’s Farm in Danforth, Illinois) and Jill Cummings (the miller at Janie’s Farm) to create this memorable bread, which boasts a crisp crust and light, fluffy, supple crumb. Wilken and his son Ross constructed the only large-scale organic grain mill in all of Illinois. They use a wheat flour blend called “wabash” that comes from the mill at Janie’s. The current loaf is 90% whole wheat, 7% whole rye, and 3% malted rye. Malting is a signature stamp Wade often uses when baking to add sweetness to grain.

Craft bread baker Zachary Golper is another huge fan of the specialty grain movement, and loves to produce more interesting bread flavors. The 2019 James Beard Outstanding Baker finalist and owner of Brooklyn, New York, favorite Bien Cuit, scours the planet in search of interesting grains that produce unique and globally inspired flavors. “Right now, I’m getting durum flour from Sicily (Italy) from a third-generation miller,” says Golper. “It’s milled from an ancient variety of durum. It’s like a newfound love.”

Filippo Drago, the miller from Sicily, supplies the durum flour to the US market through specialty ingredients importer Gustiamo US, based in Bronx, New York. According to Gustiamo, Filippo Drago’s Castelvetrano flour is a blend of stone ground grains, made without any part of the grain kernel removed; all the grain’s bran, germ, and endosperm is skillfully milled into a beautiful homogeneous flour. The result is a flavorful flour that produces bread and baked goods with natural flavor hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is another big fan of the flour, used to make its own Pane Nero. Drago is stone milling the organic durum wheat at his mill, Molini del Ponte. “What he makes is to standard flour as farmstead cheese is to Kraft singles. Its texture is coarse, the color is light, speckled yellow, and there’s a slight sweetness to it,” according to Zingerman’s. When used in baking, like the Pane Nero bread made by the bakers at Zingerman’s Bakehouse, it results in a dark brown loaf with a dense, compact crumb.