As a miller of organic speciality flours we need to source the finest grains. Modern farming techniques can to some extent even out variations caused by temperature, rainfall and soil conditions giving a much more consistent, although artificially contrived, product. With much of our grain being organic we know that although two farms might be supplying the same variety of grain, it is likely that two flours produced to the same specification from these two farms might produce different results.
Much of the characteristics of wheat, and therefore the flour, can be attributed to the type of soil that the plants are grown in as much as to the conditions - not dissimilar to the effects of different soils on wines. Imagine a vineyard where every acre can provide a different quality of grape, from sunny slopes to shady slopes or rocky hillsides, or the variety of English farms; wooded, shady, hilly, flat. In contrast, if you imagine a prairie, the soil is the same and the landscape flat, allowing for more even and consistent crops. From these varied landscapes we search for the very best grains.
If you are a cooperative wine producer, you take all the grapes and make an average blend. At Shipton Mill, we search out only the best “vintages” and best growers and farms, and select our grains by their excellence, not the average. We seek grain from all over the world, for many types of wheat cannot be grown on maritime, misty islands. Wherever possible we use known farmers or suppliers with whom we have built relationships over the years.
We love our local growers as well, who produce some wonderful home-grown varieties of wheat, despite our sometimes dire climate!
Wheat can be hard or soft. Hard wheat generally has smaller kernels. It contains high protein and gluten levels, primarily designed for making bread flours. Depending on variety and growing conditions, hard wheat can have vastly different protein levels.
Not all breads require high protein wheat. French bread, for example, can be made from flour with protein levels as low as 9%, although in general a higher protein level will give you a larger, more open-crumbed loaf.
The hard varieties of wheat can have protein levels up to 15 or 16%. The two main types of hard wheat are the hard red and the hard white varieties. Hard white wheat is a relative new-comer that tends to produce a lighter coloured, more spongey bread. Traditional bakers often prefer the hard red wheat as it delivers a more distinctive taste and a more traditional texture.
Typical protein levels for varieties of soft wheat are 9-11%. Flour made from soft wheat can also be used in cake and pastry flours. If you want a really low gluten cake flour, mix your soft wheat flour with other low gluten flours such as oat flour, barley flour or buckwheat flour.
Durum is the hardest of all the varieties of wheat grown today. It has a very high protein content, and very short and strong gluten that make it ideal for pasta. The most common form is amber durum whose typically yellowish endosperm gives pasta that distinctive yellow colour.
Winter wheat is planted in the autumn and must begin growing before winter comes. Winter wheat can be harvested earlier in the year than spring wheat. Some people claim that hard red winter wheat has a better protein content than the hard spring wheat varieties. However, this is not necessarily the case - it all depends on the growing conditions and farming methods.
Spring wheat is planted in the spring and is harvested in late summer or early autumn, and as a result of good summer growing conditions can have excellent or strong protein levels, ideal for making great bread. For example, most strong white flour favoured by bakers derives from spring wheat. For some religions, spring-sown wheat is preferred.