Hudson, New York
Local food/farms
16 December 2014 06:15PM
Enid Futterman-2


Everything edible at Fish & Game has a story. (Actually, everything inedible does too.) This is the story of the bread:

“Walter’s extraordinary gifts as a baker make Fish & Game’s bread program a highlight of the dining experience, both in the bread basket and featured in various courses during the meal. It should come as no surprise, then, that the flours he uses are grown and milled by passionate New Yorkers in ways that benefit the land and the people who live on it in equal measure. Farmer Ground, based just outside Ithaca, is a collaborative partnership with two sides: a grain-growing operation, focused on producing ripe, organic, high-protein grains ideal for baking, and a milling plant designed to grind these carefully grown grains into flours well-suited for a variety of culinary applications.

“Thor Oeschner (pronounced “Tor”) is the farmer in Farmer Ground. Besides the 1200 acres he either owns or leases, he contracts with other farmers to grow various grains to his specifications. Many of these farmers, like Oeschner himself, got into grain by growing animal feed. Grain for human consumption, however, especially flour, demands much higher standards of ripeness, moisture levels, and protein content. Bread flour needs gluten, that much-maligned (mostly spuriously) protein, for its elasticity and rising power. Farmer Ground pays a premium for high protein grain. Sprouting degrades baking quality, so wheat must be harvested at about 16 percent water and quickly dried down for storage to ensure peak performance. It’s a steep learning curve: ‘While we’re figuring out what conditions make for good food-quality grains, they’re figuring out their businesses, how to harvest and dry grain quickly. Wheat is not as easy as corn, which dries fast.’

“Oeschner’s farm, about fifteen minutes from the mill over some damn scenic roads, houses the cleaning and drying machines that process the grain for storage and eventual grinding. The principle, the same since agriculture was invented, is simple: clean off any dirt and detritus (careful work with the combine does a good job threshing away the chaff) and then dry the grain so it’s shelf stable and won’t sprout or grow mold during storage. They still use a cleaner built in 1910, which does a handsome job, especially since diligent harvesting makes for pretty clean grain to begin with, and the basic technology hasn’t changed much: a series of screens, from coarser to finer, and a fan to blow lighter matter away. All the chaff, and the hulls from the mill, are sold as animal feed. There’s no waste.”

(Read the rest of the story at the link above.)

Photo by Peter Barrett

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