It’s springtime’s initiation, the wintry gloom well behind us. Time for some celebratory baking, so preheat the oven and hit the shelves. You’ve got the organic milk, the Isigny butter, the eggs from free-range hens. And then there’s your flour, mass-produced at a factory and shelf-stabilized for a supermarket where it has sat for weeks. But don’t panic—the foodie police needn’t know. With the spate of fresh-milled flours now available, there’s time to reform.
These small-batch flours, stone-ground from locally grown grains, are yet another cog in the steamrolling wheel of the artisanal foodways movement. Across the country, farmers, millers, and bakers are exploring the quirks and characteristics of these native grains and their flours that, with their complex tastes, textures, and aromas, are to commercial brands as Reblochon is to Velveeta.
In our area, the production challenges are many. New York has unpredictable weather, a nominal wheat-farming heritage, and limited milling and storage facilities. High-gluten soft white winter wheat, the gold standard for moist, airy bread, doesn’t grow well here. Stoneground small-batch flours won’t keep well, since much of their easily spoiled outer germ is retained. Where supermarket flours are machine processed for even consistency and long shelf life, these local flours can vary with the year, the weather, even by the pasture. Baking with them requires patience and adaptability.
So are they worth all the fuss? Dutchess County’s Don Lewis thinks so. His Wild Hive Farm (845-266-5863) in Clinton Corners has milled local organic grains for about eight years now, and runs a thriving on-site and online bakery offering 19 organic flours, and pastries from scones to chocolate meringue cookies to raisin/walnut multi-grain bread.
And Bedford Village’s Helene Rosenhouse-Romeo definitely thinks so. She co-owns Near & Natural (1 Court Rd, 914-205-3545), a café-market featuring local products, with Wild Hive’s among the most coveted. “My customers say their pastry flour makes a superior crust, that it has really made a difference in their baking,” she says. “It hasn’t been sitting on a shelf for months.” Wild Hive’s polenta is a favorite with her kids, and she recommends its 10-grain blend for cereal. Its breads, especially the corn rye, are top sellers, and its lemon squares have become legend. “All its products are delicious, wholesome, and fresh,” Rosenhouse-Romeo raves. Owner Hans Johansson of Mushrooms & More agrees. The White Plains-based company distributes Wild Hive flour to restaurants including Mount Kisco’s Flying Pig on Lexington. “We want to support local farmers,” he says. “And their whole-grain products are unprocessed.” So get with the locavore program and try them out. “These flours give people access to a nutrient-dense food to feed their family, and help promote sustainable agriculture,” says Don Lewis of Wild Hive Farm. “It’s a great thing to have the option of this local, native product.” I’m with you, Don. My oven’s already lit.