Wheat is not usually thought of as a seasonal ingredient. It’s not like dark red cherries, perfect peaches or truly vine-ripened tomatoes that, especially here in Western Washington, have a very short window of exquisite flavor, of texture, of color, of all the things. The wheat I use, most of it milled for me, but some I mill myself, does have limited life. Only so much of any one varietal is grown each year. Therefore, there is only so much available to be shipped to the mill or to me. When the organic Edison berries are used up, we all have to make do until the next harvest is on the books.
Most commodity flour is an assortment of commodity wheat, varieties grown for ease of harvest, ease of milling, ease of baking. These varietals are blended together so flour companies can sell the same product year after year. Grain is collected from around the globe and gathered at enormous mills then flattened, sifted and mixed into bags for consumers. The silos are never empty of grain to mill, specific varieties not a concern, just that similarities are such that the blending will go on unimpeded.
Using varietal grains, using grains grown for flavor, grown for their specific baking qualities, are missed when the supply is used up for the season. Last year, Cairnspring had to adjust its Trailblazer flour to Trailblazer Select, bringing in Skagit Red, a variety they found to mix with the dwindling supply of Yecora Rojo grain, that would provide the same great bread flour and the quality flavor. It has preformed beautifully. The increased demand for these beautiful flours has created a bit of a bind: there is only so much to go around.
I imagine it won’t be long until the big mills try to get on board the varietal flour train that’s been gaining momentum across the Country. They’ll give precious names to commodity wheat blends, trying to lure in some of this market segment willing to pay optimal prices for something so humble as flour. The truth will out in the products though. Just like the word “artisan” lost all meaning when companies using sourdough flavoring slapped that label on their bread bags, varietal wheat will go the same way. Bread made with actual wheat varietals, though, wheat grown by farmers whom I can actually name, will always be amazing.
The flavor, the texture, the real-ness of this food can’t be faked. It will be more expensive since farmers are getting a better price then what commodity markets will bear. That should be lauded. Next time you’re at your favorite bakery, ask what flours they use. I make bread and sweets supporting these regional growers. Know that when you buy our products, or those from any of the many bakers now using regional varietal wheat flour, you are helping out a farm family. Here’s to wheat!