Great locally-grown and milled grains in Nor. Cal. from Ridgecut Gristmills
I'm writing with a shameless plug for Ridgecut Gristmills. I don't have any connection, other than as a satisfied customer who hopes that this new business succeeds. The owner is very friendly, and I've been very impressed by her stone-milled flours and her willingness to custom-grind whatever grain I ask for.
It was started by Erin McGowan Sweet in Arbuckle, in the Sacramento River Valley in California. She sells grains and cornbread and pancake mixes every Saturday at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market in San Francisco.
I met Erin a year ago, and got to chatting with her about grains and milling. Hers is a neat story: she decided that Northern California needed a stone mill, so found an old millstone for sale in North Carolina, drove cross-country to buy it, brought it back to a small town between Sacramento and Yuba, and started buying grain from local farmers to mill. Apparently, it's one of only 5 working stone mills west of the Mississippi.
Erin has been stone-milling corn and other grains and selling them online, at farmer's markets, and recently, to a bunch of high-end restaurants: BarbersQ (Napa), Cane Rosso (SF), Ducca (SF), Greens (SF), Incanto (SF), Rutherford Grill (Rutherford), Ubuntu (Napa), and Zin (Healdsburg).
My partner is a polenta-lover, and we swear by her cornmeal. Unlike the stuff in the supermarket, it has all the germ included, so it has more corn flavor. The tradeoff is that the cornmeal is not shelf-stable, and will go rancid unless you keep it in the fridge or freezer.
I mentioned to Erin that I was an amateur baker, and asked whether she ever milled other types of grains. She responded, "What would you like?" Amazingly, she has no problem milling even small quantities for a home baker. I just email her a couple weeks in advance and pick it up at the market on Saturday.
So far, she has custom-milled barley and rye for me. The rye flour from a local grower was wonderful, and made some great European-style loaves. Needless to say, I think it is beyond cool to have my own personal miller, and almost hesitate to share this secret.
Recently, she's been "experimenting" with a hard red wheat from a local grower, trying to figure out the best grind. I got 10 lbs of a medium-grind whole wheat. I did sift the flour through a medium sieve to remove some of the bran, and removed about a teaspoon per cup of flour. I'm saving that to sprinkle on my breakfast cereal, as a topper for rolls, etc. The sifting technique is what Peter Reinhart recommends in The Bread Baker's Apprentice to approximate the high-extraction whole-wheat flour used by France's most famous baker, Lionel Poilâne.
This must be a high-protein grain with a lot of gluten. I baked a sort of hybrid Pain Poilâne/ciabatta with 80% whole wheat and 20% King Arthuer All-Purpose. It had a great structure, lots of irregularly sized holes with glossy sides, exactly what you're looking for in an artisan-style loaf, but that is sometimes hard to get with whole wheat.
Anyhow, Ridgecut is definitely worth seeking out by fellow Northern Californians. Here are a few loaves I've made with Ridgecut-milled grains.
A brown boule with rye, barley, cornmeal, molasses, coffee, cocoa, and caraway
Half rye, half wheat sourdough batard
Here, I started off following Reinhart's instructions for Pain Poilâne. I pushed the hydration a bit, so it ended up closer to ciabatta. 80% sifted Ridgecut whole wheat, 20% KA AP.