We buy all of our ingredients from a wholesaler in Glasgow called Greencity. One of my favourite brands of flour is Gilchesters. They are based in Northumberland, where they both grow and mill all their grain. Their doing both the farming and the milling means that they can tell us absolutely everything about their flour, from the soil it was grown in to the speed of the stones that ground it. They can even, should we wish to know, tell us the name of the driver of the combine harvester which brought in the crop.
Although I really like such an amazing level of traceability, what I enjoy about the flour is the way it behaves when I use it to bake. Both their wheat and spelt flours make lovely doughs which feel just right in the hands. They also bake into a well structured and very flavoury loaf, and do so consistently.
So it was a great pleasure to be able to visit their mill on Monday. Our map was not as up to date as it might have been, but Andrew Wilkinson did not seem in the slightest bit put out at the lateness of our arrival. He was also extremely generous with his time, showed us all over the operation, and shared his astonishing depth of knowledge about grain nutrition, the subject of his PhD.
This conversation was, for me, the real joy of our visit. As well as learning a great deal of detail concerning topics about which I had previously only a cursory knowledge, I came away inspired and with a feeling of something like validation about the whole grain, naturally leavened breads that I like to make. It's not just that I think they taste better (and by 'taste', I really mean everything about the experience, from the fragile crispness of the warm crust in the hands to the comfortable satiation after eating). It is that there is a great deal of research which describes in detail the ways in which these breads are nutritionally superior to those produced by the chorley wood process, around 85% of bread in the UK.
Gilchesters flour is grown and milled with these nutritional qualities very much in mind. It isn't the reason we buy their flour; we do that because it makes super bread. It is very reassuring, though, to know that behind this lovely flour is a deep and knowledgeable concern for our nutrition.