This week Phil has been on furlough and has been experimenting with a heritage grain of eyebrow-raising provenance.
Readers of a certain vintage will remember pre-millennial electronic music duo Groove Armada. Andy Cato, of said duo, bought a farm in France, as semi-retired rockers are wont to do.
He was gifted a handful of heritage long-straw grain by a retired baker. Unlike the shorter varieties we’ve become used to, grown alone in vast monocultured fields, this grain is sowed directly into grass pastures where animals are allowed to graze.
This is a ‘population wheat’, meaning there is a huge mix of different grain all grown in one field. Rather than picking through and selecting the ‘right’ grain, all is harvested and resown, letting nature determine which grain varieties grow best in that environment. This variety is the key to sustainability and also creates interesting complexities in the flour.
Andy is now a full–time farmer with a sideline in electronic beats, and is growing his grain in farms across the UK, stonemilling the flour and selling to bakeries to “take back control of our food supply in a way that reconsiders the relationship between humankind and nature.”
Phil’s First Bake with Wildfarmed grain
I made a loaf using wholemeal and two of the more sifted varieties. This combination created something similar to our wholemeal sourdough, very flavourful from the wholemeal flour, but kept light with the addition of the sifted flours.
It was strong and elastic to work with, and had a good oven spring. The loaf has a really nutty flavour and caramelised dark crust, very nice with lots of butter and honey!
Why we’re interested in this
Heritage grains and wild farm methods are interesting and fun to work with, but they’re much more than a hobbyist or gourmet pursuit. They fit in with a number of Loaf’s key aims.
Firstly, they’re healthier and easier to digest than industrially processed flour, so that’s a no-brainer.
Secondly, they’re better for the environment. Wild farming is no-till, so the microbiome of the earth is allowed to develop and mature, holding CO2 and water in the ground, and allowing the soil to live.
Thirdly, they have the potential to create a sustainable economy of farmers, millers and bakers producing affordable bread for a mass audience. We’re encouraged by Andy’s desire to create not just healthy bread but healthy working conditions and healthier communities.
We’ve sourced a supplier and plan to bring these grains to Loaf later in the year, both for our bakery and to sell in the shop, so look out for them. And if you have any experience or stories about heritage grains, please do get in touch.