The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Heartland Mill Tour

proth5's picture

Heartland Mill Tour

Lest any of you consider that my life is all flights across the Pacific and raw squid for breakfast, I recently found myself in driving (in my little green convertible - top down - adorned with my "I Love Okinawa" magnet) from Colorado's Front Range to the great wheat growing region of Kansas for a tour of the Heartland Mill in Marienthall, KS.

Some of you may know Heartland Mill ( as the producer of Golden Buffalo flour -  a high extraction organic flour.  And so here comes the first of my shameless plugs.  Heartland Mill mills a variety of flours - all organic - either stone ground or on their long-flow roller mill. They also produce oat products and sell whole grains.  Why shamelessly plug them? Because the mill is farmer owned and they are very interested in producing flours that support the artisan bread baking community .  I believe in supporting businesses like these that can make decisions not only on profitability (as I am a great believer in making a profit) but on what they think will support their employees and their community.  So that's my first plug.  If you are interested, they sell directly to the consumer - their small bags are very lovely cloth bags - for use after emptying for small sewing projects. 

So I will now give the second  of my shameless plugs.  This tour was sponsored by the Bread Baker's Guild of America (BBGA)  ( (Hello, Laverne!  It's me again!) without whose hard work I would not have had such a marvelous opportunity.  I have said before that the educational opportunities they provide are well worth the membership fee - even for this raggedy home baker - and I mean it sincerely.  So, that being said, I don't think it is fair to try and write a "tell-all" of the tour because I don't want to give the impression that folks who hunger for this kind of education just need to wait long enough and I will post it all here, and that there is no need to join.  I support a lot of their efforts and membership fees support those.

But some highlights are well worth sharing with other bread baking and milling enthusiasts.

First, for all that I have been out and about in the world, my travels have neglected actual drives through what is often referred to as "the flyover zone."  Since my trip started from Denver in the pre-dawn hours, I got to see the sun rising over the fields of Eastern Colorado, the magenta clouds reaching down to the frost covered fields, a gentle mist making the entire scene something out of a fantasy.  Yes, our mountains are beautiful, but I have never been so struck by the beauty of our plains.  I believe someone once wrote a song about it.

Then I hit the great wheat growing region.  For those of you in coastal states, or countries with less acreage, the scale of these farms is quite striking.  They are immense.   Not big, not really big - immense.  I was not exactly driving slowly and it took quite a while to drive between any areas where I could spot houses.    I cannot help but wonder how these immense farms could ever become the small farms that so many food enthusiasts promote, but this trip was not about that.

After five hours of driving, I arrived at Heartland Mill. it is a very small operation both in size and staffing.  Their head miller said that he had no particular expertise but was just "an old farm boy."  I instinctively put my hand to my wallet... :>)  They had the mills shut down so we could both tour the mill and talk.  (So sorry about no pictures, but not only are my photography skills not up to the task, but only pictures by the official photographer were allowed. ) 

We talked a great deal about the millstones themselves.  There is a type of millstone called a French millstone that is constructed of stones that are only 2 hardness points softer than diamonds.  What was discussed was that this type of millstone (which is not yet in operation in the mill) will produce a caramelization of the flour that is the "ultimate" in flour taste - or so it is according to B.W. Dedrick's "Practical Milling". Also interesting is that this type of millstone is not a monolith, but is pieced together so that there the hardness and composition of the stone is more consistent.

We then moved on to the stone milling area where we took a look at the Meadows mills.   To get their high extraction flour, Heartland is milling in one pass and bolting the flour (through a number 40 mesh sieve).  Of course I had to ask questions about this.  They found that grinding un tempered wheat (9-10% moisture) was most successful, but then the miller similarly claimed that it was a characteristic of stone milling itself that made this possible.  No one seems think about burr milling with steel, but our exchanges lead me to believe that my approach of treating my process similar to the roller milling process might (and I emphasize "might") be a good one.

We also discussed stone milling vs. roller milling and how the difference in the processes might influence the flavor profile of the flour. While there is one school of thought that the stones themselves impart a better flavor, Craig Ponsford put out the thought that the fact that the parts of the grain were never separated (as they are in roller milling) created a better flavor profile.  All were in agreement that in blind tests, bread made with stone ground flour tasted "better."

We also had an interesting discussion about the words "stone ground" when applied to flour and how various labeling regulations made it imperative to "know your miller" so that you know that the flour was really 100% stone ground, not just run through stones to meet the labeling requirements.

We went over the tempering process (for roller milling) in detail.  I have some things to think about...

The long flow roller mill is run at speeds where the flour comes off "cool."  They had experimented with milling very "un aggressively" and found that they did not create enough starch damage in the flour for it to be used in baking. 

We talked a bit about aging flour.  The maxim of "use right away or wait two weeks" was discussed.  Thom Leonard tells me that this is true - because there is enzymatic action that takes place soon (but not immediately) after milling that will impact baking qualities until oxidation takes place.  However, we also discussed that for whole wheat flours this impact is negligible and that he has used whole wheat flour at various ages with little impact on the final product. (Thom- if you are listening in, please log in and fill in the exact details - there are people here who want to know...)

On the whole, I came away with the feeling that I have a lot more research to do on milling and that that even though I have taken a lot of factors into account in my process, I have a lot more things to consider.

We then spent a little time in the lab to watch the alveograph.   I've read a lot about these tests and how to interpret them, but I've never seen the thing in operation.  Essentially this machine blows a bubble (think bubble gum) from a specially prepared disk of dough and measures the pressure required to blow the bubble and the time it takes the bubble to burst.  If you've made it this far in the blog, and you are not familiar with this test, you need to look up source material in any one of the excellent books available to home bakers that discuss rheological testing for flour.  In short, the pressure gives an indication of elasticity and the time an indicator of extensibility.  We, as home bakers, care about this because it is the perfect balance of extensibility and elasticity that give us well shaped, but open crumbed breads that we so seek.  (More about this later.)  The importance of the results of this test cannot be overemphasized (for white flours - the bran in whole wheat flours cuts the gluten so that the bubble pops prematurely).  I want one of those bad boys.  Bad. (They talk about "boys and their toys" - I'm possibly worse - and for those that don't know - I'm a girl.)

At lunch I had the opportunity to chat with P. Stephen Baenziger of the University of Nebraska.  He works on selective breeding and improving small grains (including my favorite - triticale.  "You probably haven't heard of it," he said.  "Actually, I've milled it and baked with it...").  We talked about the local heirloom wheat - Red Turkey.  We discussed that while these heirloom breeds try to keep their genetic lines pure, the various diseases that attack them keep evolving and eventually a once disease resistant variety needs to be crossed with other plants to produce reliably, especially in an organic situation (heirloom breed enthusiasts - hold off!  He is dealing with very, very large commercial operations.  Results on a smaller scale will be different.) I did have to agree with him somewhat because my own experience with heirloom plants in my home garden (which sometimes gets less than optimal care because of my work/travel schedule) has been very similar and I've begun to love my hybrids for reliable, yet still tasty production.

We did have a more formal presentation on wheat breeding and what it takes to get a new breed to the point where it can be released for large scale planting.  Now here is where even I began to glaze over a bit, for truthfully little me and little you (unless "little you" are a professional artisan baker) have little influence in this process.  But the overall takeaway was pretty profound.  He discussed that various strains of wheat - that might have better baking qualities for the artisan baker - were being abandoned because there is no perceived market for them.  In the context of a BBGA educational event, the discussion wound around to how such an organization can change this (back to the second shameless plug.)

We talked a bit about alveograph tests and how to compensate for a flour that was not ideal.  Here's where I want to put some emphasis - yes, hydration was mentioned (proper fermentation is a given in this company) - but another factor for correcting flour properties was the amount of flour pre fermented.  I found this out for myself when I was tuning up my baguette formula, but it gets very little play on these pages - I wish it would get more.

This winds me around to our last discussion.  We talked a bit about "protein levels" in wheat and how American bakers are all about the absolute number and not how the flour actually performs under the conditions of artisan bakers.  Professional bakers who have baked in Europe expressed that the absolute protein number was not as important as how the flour acted as far as its baking qualities.  Unfortunately the industry accepted tests are not designed for the kind of breads being produced by artisan bakers.  It was expressed that Heartland would like to mill these lower protein flours, but there is no market for them because bakers have been trained to look for certain protein numbers.  A lot of this was discussed within the context of how the BBGA might help, but my takeaway was this: It is not that Europe is a superior place to produce wheat; it is not that we don't have wonderful millers; it is that there is no perceived market for these flours.   I have considered this for a long time.  Maybe it was the sight of those immense fields of wheat.  North America is a great place to grow wheat - but we, as consumers and bakers don't show enough demand for these flours to make production economically viable.  Back to my shameless plug - here is where organizations like BBGA can make changes.

(I also had a lively discussion about the difference in economic incentives for small businesses/farms in Europe/Canada vs. the US, but do- not - get - me - started. Really.)

My last memorable quip was a gentleman who asked me why a raggedy home baker would know so many technical details about wheat, milling, and flour.  "Was it that your bread didn't turn out well and you decided to find out why?"  "No, I was always a pretty good baker," I replied.  "The bread was always good.  It's just that I - can't - help - myself."

I decided rather than stay for the dinner that I had spent enough time away from home and drove back to watch the sun set over the Rockies.  To wrap up this long, long post, as I drove I pondered that this had been one of the most satisfying days that I had had in a long time. (A long drive on clear roads in nice weather in a sports car might have had something to do with it, but the mill tour played a large part.)  And I thought of those words uttered by that most famous Kansas girl:

"...if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with.."

Dorothy Gale


Happy Baking!


dmsnyder's picture

I enjoyed reading about your field trip. Thanks for sharing.


proth5's picture


wally's picture

What an interesting field trip.  Having lived in Nebraska for 7 years and driven across the state on numerous occasions, I agree that the scale of farming in the midwest is difficult to imagine if you haven't lived there.

So if I get the 'bottom line' correctly, it's that as long as Wonderbread (or some dressed up pseudo-artisan version) rules wheat growers are going to cater to that audience.  It makes me wonder why the US has never had the kind of bread 'culture' that exists in France or Italy or Germany, for example.  We certainly have the wheat fields!


proth5's picture

I tried not to start on this, but...

I think that some of the blame is on the very geography that makes this such great wheat growing country.  When people are far apart, it is hard to effectively support small bakeries.  I think our very pioneer origins where bread was traditionally a "home product" until it rapidly became industrialized - skipping the step of a large network of artisan bakers -  has contributed to this. Distribution problems alone put a heavy demand on the small time baker in most of the relatively sparsely populated United States. I'm no spring chicken, but I remember home baked bread or industrial bread - I have absolutely no recollection of "small bakery" bread. Of course most of my memories come from farming country or sub urban sprawl  - where relative isolation made going to the "corner bakery" infeasible. Also, we don't have the kind of trade training or apprenticeship system that has survived in Europe.  We have elite culinary schools, but often with tuitions that are far out of the reach of folks who will earn baker's pay.  If we aspire to a country where everyone has a college education (and we do, I am told) we neglect reasonably priced trade training.  I think, also, that we have kind of a "lost generation" where parents were unhappy to see their children "do worse" by choosing jobs (professions) that involved manual labor. I wonder some times if we will ever return to acknowledging the dignity and value  of craftsmanship, but I think we might.

One more thing - what I do remember was massive - massive! - spending to teach us that industrial bread products were superior to those made at home. I still have - in my archives of industrial folly - comic books put out by the Sunbeam Bread Company that pointed out to us wee children the flaws of home made bread (amusingly enough, an open crumb - our Holy Grail - was one of the things that Sunbeam taught us was inferior).  They took us little elementary school kids into their bread factory and showed us how modern and sanitary it was.  We went home with bags of bread to eat at home and show our mothers how much we loved them.  Little children often love soft bread on their own - but I know that I was encouraged to love it even more. (I also think that the kind of thinking that labels only hard crusted hearth breads as "artisan breads" does not serve us well.  Tastes vary and bread needs vary.  A cucumber sandwich on a baguette is just horrible.  I favor the term "artisan baker" which means that the baker brings care and craftsmanship to the product - even if it is an enriched pan bread. And trust me, I've heard people from many parts of the world express their love for those "big American sandwiches" - on soft bread.  Maybe not exclusively, but sometimes.)

Unfortunately, the reaction of most of us was not to seek out artisan bakers, but to go back to baking at home.  I also had the opportunity to speak with artisan bakers in my area and was somewhat ashamed to say that I never bought bread because, well, I bake it myself. Interestingly, the bakers were French and came up through the French system.  

Producers must - and I mean must - produce what people will buy - else they no longer can produce.

I think wheat growers are beginning to see possiblites (the discussions on this tour were with people who are part of the industrial agriculture system, yet they have some thoughts in the direction of better wheats and flours for "real" artisan bakers), but we need to get away from thinking (as we do) that everyone should take care of themselves.  I am a free market capitalist to the very marrow of my bones, but I consider from time to time that this works best when groups of people can come together to demand change. And one demands change with one's pocketbook. 

What would happen if real artisan bakers could spend the money for an advertising campaign similar to Sunbeam's?  Or get together wilth millers who will take a chance on lower protein flours and develop ways to evalute them so that they can reassure their fellow bakers that they will work in their bakery.  On an individaul basis, they can barely afford it.  But what if there was a guild - a guild of bread bakers? (Back to second shameless plug.)

So as long as smaller concerns other than industrial food producers do not see a need to come together so that their various voices act as one and ask for better products, we will get what we deserve. 

See? Don't- get - me - started....

The current farm subsidy system is also a factor, but I wil absolutely not start on that.


wally's picture

Well said!

DonD's picture

I really enjoyed reading your fascinating account and informative comments. Also thanks for the plug, I will certainly try their flours.


proth5's picture

and thank you.

charbono's picture

Thanks for the trip report. We are lucky to have Heartland selling retail. There’s another take here:

I contacted Heartland a few months ago about buying some Turkey Red berries. The current crop was only 10.5% protein, so I decided to wait a year.

Regarding the composite millstones, Hazen’s Pond Lily site implies that, as demand on the special French buhr quarry increased, smaller pieces of stone were banded together and shaped into millstones.

Thanks for confirming that whole wheat needs no aging.

Didn’t you buy any grain while you were there?

proth5's picture

Rodale article.

10.5% protien and you didn't buy Turkey Red?  See, this is what everyone was talking about - that could have been a batch of wheat that would bake as though it had a higher protein content (or would bake well with just a few adjustments) but we have been trained to think that it couldn't possibly be good enough for our bread baking.  I don't mean to "go off" on you, but you just gave me a perfect example of why we need to find other ways of measuring wheat quality other than just protein. The miller at Heartland Mill really liked milling that wheat - but Thom warned that it was just one particular batch from one particular farm...

As for the French buhr - I respect the Pond Lily site.  The tale that it gave a more consistent surface was the story told to me, but that one is quite plausible, too.  The story told to me also said that the stones were quarried near Paris and came to America not for mill stones, but were ballast on ships. As with so many trades, things were not always carefully written down and I'm sure there are a lot of different stories.  As soon as SPOOM gets its bookstore back on line, I am going to order the book PRACTICAL MILLING, by B.W. Dedrick which comes highly recommended. It's time to find that crowbar that opens my wallet and buy a book.

I thought about buying grain and/or flour, but just right now the amount of time I will have at home is uncertain, so I left it for another time.  

rhomp2002's picture

I happen to be the son of an artisan baker who came up through the small town bakeries in the Midwest back before the soft Wonder or Sunbeam bread became so popular.  I was raised on the good artisan bread.  Unfortunately I was the bright one so it was to be college for me and no hand work.  Result is I have to relearn all the things I could have learned from my dad.   He was a school dropout because he had to help feed the family back in the day.  What I found fascinating was that when I was taking college chemistry my old man could look at the dough and tell exactly what was wrong and what needed to be done.  He would not know the chemical reasons for it but he would know the actual signs and what they meant chemically and how to correct them.  He actually made some of the best bread I ever tasted as well as a lot of the other really good things. 

And you are so right about the generation after him and the attitude of the parents.  I was born just before WW II and most of my friends, no matter what their parents did for a living, were aimed at college so we would not have to work as hard as our parents did.  80% of my small town graduating class went to college full time right after high school and we all became doctors or engineers or, in my case, computer people or lawyers.Just enought workers to do the mass production that is the norm now.   Shame really because a lot of the people would have been better fit for the laboring jobs and also would have made just about as much money.  My 50th reunion 2 years ago and one of my old time friends who stayed home and became a mechanic illustrates well.  He owns 3 gas stations, 2 garages and a collection of classic cars, a home in the best section of town and a vacation cabin on Lake Erie.  Not bad for a simple mechanic.  Wish I had done as well.


proth5's picture

deny the value of formal education.  My life has been rich and varied because of my education, my career and the choices that they gave me.

But I, too was definitely steered away from "working with my hands" as something "beneath" someone with my type of intelligence.  I do have a bit of a problem with that (although I think, in the end, it worked out well for me.) Economic succes aside (and I am a big fan of that) pursuing any good work with the appropriate enthusiasm and passion has many rewards.

nancys's picture

thanks for a great post.  I recently bought flour from a restored mill hoping to have a local source for good flour.  Unfortunately the flour was tasteless and the crumb dry.  I will order from Hearland from now on...will also try to get said local miller to learn more about the art of milling; )

proth5's picture

a try and let them stand or fall on their own merits...

LindyD's picture

Your description of your drive brought memories of my younger and more carefree days, when we'd rack our skis on the top of the car at the end of the Eastern winter and head for the Rockies for spring skiing.  Driving nonstop, my most vivid recollections are of endless miles of farms and fields - our national bread basket.  

A most interesting thread.  I'll have to give Heartland Mill another try, but this time dealing direct as the organic food coop that sells Heartland is clueless.  Flour is just flour to them: white or WW.  No details.

I've contemplated joining the BBGA, but am unsure of what benefits I, as a home baker, would derive from a professional organization - aside from the $80 membership fee helping them in their quest to standardize terms (something I'm wholeheartedly in favor of - and I hope that includes the difference between a banneton and a brotform).  Are the events in the World's Fair of Bread 2010 open only to members?

[5/3/10 edit]  Well, I was about to order from Heartland, but when I discovered that it would cost me nearly $19 in shipping and handling to buy five pounds of their flour (an item costing $6.12), it made no sense, either logically or fiscally.


DonD's picture

After reading proth5's insightful account, I too was interested in trying Heartland Mill flours but was shocked to hear the cost of shipping and handling for a small bag of flour. I recently ordered a 50 lbs bag of KA flour from Hillcrest Foods in Saratoga, NY and the shipping cost was less than $22. It just doesn't make sense.


proth5's picture

I didn't ask about prices or shipping while I was there, so I'm sorry about the sticker shock.  I tend to be a little "price insensitive" but at those shipping prices I should have loaded up the sports car with a few bags of flour and just stuck them in those USPS flat rate boxes.

If I ever decide to take a drive out there again, I'll post a note.  There must be a better way to get their flours...

proth5's picture

(See comment above on "sticker shock" - sorry about that)  I will say that their "retail" business is kind of a small scale operation - bags are filled by hand - and they probably don't do enough business to make a lot of shipping cost effective.  If I ever take a drive out there again, I'll let folks know...

You know that kind of pushes one of my buttons on the local/sustainable food movement.  Distribution systems matter.  Price matters.  It's well and fine to produce superior flours, but if people cannot reasonably buy them - what has been accomplished?

I've been a member of BBGA for about three or four years now and I consider it well worth the price.  What you don't see on the website (unless you are a member) is the "Breadlines" publication which is becoming a treasure trove of formulas and techniques.  Their educational opportunities are outstanding and it is a real education to be able to meet professional bakers and serious home bakers.

As we all know, I'm just a raggedy home baker and these days not even much of that.  I am also fortunate enough to be able to indulge some of my "wants" and I feel that  get enough benefits from membership to warrant the fee. If you take a class as a non member, you are charged $80 extra and become a member. So, if you want to take a guild sponsored class, you need to join.

I will say that I am a former "Slow Food" member.  Frankly I stopped being a member because I felt that all my membership money was doing was supporting the fine dining of people who could afford to pay for their own meals.  I can be price insensitive, but I am sensitive to that kind of thing.  I most definitely do not see the BBGA as that kind of organization.  Hope this helps...

Biga/poolish/sponge - It would be worth the membership fee to never hear those terms used randomly again.  :>)

nancys's picture

I belong to a buying club (United Natural Foods, Inc.)  I can buy 25# organic unbleached white from Heartland Mills for $18.75 and the golden buffalo is $21.28.  Shipping costs are defrayed across the whole shipment and buyers but is usually no more than $2 or $3.  

Newfieguy's picture

I went on the Hillcrest site, is it me or do they just not put prices on anything?


What did that 50lb bag of KA cost with the 22 shipping on top of it?




rhomp2002's picture

They had 50 lb of Dakota Bread flour on special for just under $20 as a special.  Also had couple of other bread flours at low costs as well.  

I am with you on the regular lisrs in that I could not find any prices there.  I guess you have to deal with their salespeople to get prices from them.  Kinda strange but they do carry some good stuff there.  Also some real krep as well.


DonD's picture

I believe I paid $29 for a 50# bag of KA Organic Artisan Select AP Flour. You have to contact their sales department to get the pricing.


EvaB's picture

On the discussion of small bakeries, when I was a child we had a bakery in town, late 50's early 60's, we were a very isolated community on the Alaska Highway, no large supermarkets etc. (at one time in the late 30's and 40's we had a flour mill too until it burned down) the bakery eventually shut down when the larger chain stores moved into town, and had their own bakeries attached.

We have since moved 50 miles, and when we moved here, there was an independant bakery, which was well patronized, but it eventually shut for economic reasons, couldn't sell enough bread to support the staff and the overhead. Again, two chain stores in town with bakeries, and the local Co-op with another.

Then we got a German fellow who wanted to run an organic bakery, which started out with great fanfare, and is now open Fri and Sat, with absolute delicious breads, and pasteries, but its only open those two days a week, and they can only produce a small amount of breads, so you have to get there early and get while the getting is good.

They also mill their own flours, from locally grown organic wheat, rye and other grains, and if its not local its organically grown grain. They will sell you flour as well, so its a good source in the area, but again its the economics of the bakery business that keeps thier operation a two day a week one, not the quality of their breads. Its just not enough customers who buy bread daily to keep them going.

Then we get to the mind set of the health concious world, bread is bad (carbs are bad, no wait carbs are good, no I'm totally confused now???) and you should only eat high fibre breads made with sprouted grains and so on and so forth. Of course all fat is bad (no actually not but they keep pushing that) and on and on, so of course the poor person who has no idea of how bread should taste, buys the stuff at the local Safeway, because the Safeway says its high fibre and good for you etc, of course negleting to say that its pre made and frozen and sent who knows how many miles to be baked "fresh" in their local bakery. And because the organic bakery is only open 2 days a week, it gets forgotten because its not down where the rest of shopping takes place, and people are too busy to give up their Saturday mornings to get to the bakery for decent bread.

Its a cultural thing, I notice that a lot of the customers at the bakery are older German and European immagrents who grew up with the notion that you went out every day and shopped for the meals, not the local homesteader population who knew damn well that you shopped once a month and took it home and made do when you ran out before you made it back to town. Travel up here in the early part of the century was not easy, and you stocked up, and for winter you made sure you had a store of non perishables because you could be stuck at home for days if not weeks.

So the idea that there is no market for less high protien flours is fostered by many different factors, and the only way to change it is to keep on educating the masses as to what is "really" good bread, but don't expect it to change too quickly, or maybe ever, since the world is only getting more "quick, quick, hurry, hurry, must do more, can't drive that extra mile because its bad for the earth mentality" and normal everyday people are buying into the "chain stores care" propaganda that is put out by their ads.