Bakeries go back to basics by milling their own grains into flour

In food circles, nothing quite says 'back to basics' like milling your own flour. It's part of a growing trend, as farm arts — such as pickling, fermenting, canning and jam-making — have gained favour with home cooks and chefs across the country.

Stone milled grains retain nutritional properties but are trickier to work with

Bakeries across Canada, including True Grain Bread in B.C., are embracing the tradition of using stone mills to grind flour. (True Grain/Facebook)

In food circles, nothing quite says "back to basics" like milling your own flour.

It's part of a growing trend, as farm arts — such as pickling, fermenting, canning and jam-making — have gained favour with home cooks and chefs across the country.

Now Canadian bakers are taking that concept to the next level by using stone mills to grind flour from local farmers' grain.

"What it does is give you a coarser flour either in a whole grain format or some of them, like ours, you can sift off a certain amount of the bran to make it a little bit lighter of a product," said Bruce Stewart.

Stewart is co-owner of True Grain Bread, two B.C.-based bakeries where they grind grain on Austrian-made granite mills.

"The resulting flour that you get is often more difficult to work with on the downside, but on the upside, we believe it's more nutritious," Stewart said. "[It's] better because the nutrients aren't subjected to the high temperatures of some other processes. You're milling and baking it right after you let it rest, typically the next day, the next week."

True Grain Bread in B.C. uses stone mills to grind flour. (True Grain/Facebook)
Inside Stewart's Cowichan Bay and Summerland bakeries, six varieties of wheat and rye are milled. All grains are organic and bought from local farmers. The flour is used to bake 20 varieties of organic and preservative-free bread every day.

Other small-scale bakeries across Canada and the U.S. are also embracing the trend. Shops in Saskatoon, Victoria, Edmonton and Winnipeg, among other communities, have in-house stone mills.

There are both pros and cons to using freshly milled flour. Some of the positives include more flavour as nutty, earthy and even spicy notes of the grain are retained. And stone milling, in particular, won't break down the natural vitamins and minerals in the grain.

On the downside, Stewart said, organic flour milled in-house isn't as stable or predictable as commercially available flours that contain added enzymes and preservatives.

But that's where a skilled baker with a knack for fermentation and an innate gift with dough comes in, he said.

"That's been one of our biggest challenges, is finding bakers … who have that experience or have spent the time in environments like our's, where it's true craftsmanship. It's true baking the way baking used to be done."

Strong sales

Todd Laidlaw is the miller at True Grains' Summerland location and is also a co-owner. He has learned his craft on the job, milling grain between a pair of three-foot-diameter granite stones.

"You cannot mill by anything other than sound, because you can't see the stones," he said. "They're hidden behind a pine drum, so it's all done by sound, by sound and by vibration, and then by feel."

Laidlaw mills every day or so, grinding grains coarser or finer depending on the type of flour, and ultimately, what kind of bread the baker is making.

Rye, Red Fife and ancient grains such as spelt, koraphan, einkorn and emmer — all part of the wheat family — are ground and made into bread. The loaves are typically denser, smaller and weigh more than mass-produced counterparts.

Strong sales are evidence of our evolving knowledge of food and its provenance, Laidlaw said.

"There's a paradigm shift happening in food right now, and you can see that when you go to farmers markets," he said.

"People have an appetite for wanting to know more, for wanting to connect with their food and their food source. And our business is built upon those values, that philosophy to reconnect our customers with the farm and the way things used to be done."

Robin Summerfield is a syndicated food columnist for CBC Radio. 


  • A previous version of this story referred to the co-owner of True Grain Bread as Brian Stewart. In fact, the co-owner's name is Bruce Stewart.
    Nov 24, 2015 4:58 PM ET


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