The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A visit to Eureka Meulens

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

A visit to Eureka Meulens

 


Or to Eureka Mills, if you are more fluent in English than in Afrikaans.


We spent the past week on vacation in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.  Along with spectacular vistas, fynbos, animals we’ve never seen before (who knew that bontebok and blesbok would be so difficult to differentiate?), rolling farmlands, orchards, vineyards, calving whales and two different oceans, we managed to fit in a visit with Nico Steyn, miller and manager of Eureka Mills. 


It was really a happy accident rather than the result of any forethought.  We had stopped at a farm stand, noticed several bags of Eureka Mills flour, and read the address: Heidelberg.   And then it hit us—we were standing in a shop on the outskirts of Heidelberg!   After locating a telephone number, we called and made arrangements to visit that afternoon and see, as Nico put it, “how we make what we think is the best flour in South Africa.”


For those who might be in the vicinity someday, Eureka Mills is located just south of the N2 highway at the Karringmelkrivier (Buttermilk River) exit, west of Heidleberg.  And it is easy to spot: there is an enormous grain elevator visible from the highway which, so far as I know now, has nothing to do with Eureka Mills.  Since it was the biggest and most obvious grain-related structure, I aimed for that and drove right past the mill, only noticing the sign at the last second.  Eureka Mills is a much smaller and bare-bones outfit; as Nico said, a “one-man band operation” that looks like it is one of the buildings of the farm from which it sprang.  All of the buildings were erected by mill staff (including the new expansion that is in progress) and all equipment was installed by mill staff.


Eureka Mills was born in 1998 because two farmers were frustrated by the low prices they were being quoted for their wheat.  They recognized that they could get a much better price for their product if they converted it from raw grain to flour.  As the mill’s output has grown over the years (it currently produces about 100 tonnes/month), additional wheat is now purchased from other growers in the area to supplement the original farms’ production.  Nico joined the mill in 1999.  He had been interested in a career as a chef but, when that didn’t develop, started working at the mill to generate some income.  He has since worked his way up to the miller/manager position.


The wheat used by Eureka Mills is a hard red variety.  Since the area is short of the 35th parallel in latitude and has more of a Mediterranean-style climate, the winter and spring designations used by European and North American growers don’t quite apply.  Nico describes it as a “pre-winter” wheat.  The resulting flour is approximately 11% protein and contains nothing but wheat.  No malt.  No added vitamins.  No bleaches.  Just wheat.  Visitors to the mill (“All foreigners” a bemused Nico remarks) include James McGuire and Jeff Hamelman and they have been astonished to find a flour of this purity.


The milling process has just a few steps.  The incoming wheat is first screened to remove any stray pebbles that might have gotten in.  It is then screened again to remove any other non-wheat materials.  From the screens, it is mixed with water (tempered) and stored for 18 hours to achieve a 15% moisture content.  After tempering is completed, the wheat is sent through a series of 3 roller mills that separate the outer layer of bran from the inner endosperm and germ.  The endosperm and germ are then ground between two granite burrs in a stone mill.  The resulting (unbleached) white flour is packaged as either white bread flour or as cake flour (roughly equivalent to All Purpose flour in the U.S.).   As I’m writing this, I realize I didn’t ask what differentiates the two white flours.  If it all comes from the same wheat, there can’t be much difference except, perhaps, in the fineness of the grind.  Brown bread flour is made by reintroducing a portion of the bran and wholemeal flour is made by recombining all of the bran.  Nico explained that they had learned that running the whole grain through the stone mills resulted in the bran clogging the stones, which costs them about a day of lost production by the time everything is taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled.  Hence, the initial passes through the roller mills to separate the bran before the grain reaches the stone mills.  Lest I leave you with the impression that the milling is easy, here's Nico's take on the process: "The flour is like a woman; what worked with it yesterday may not work today."


Although none of the grains used by the mill are certified as organic, Nico explained that the growers exercise careful soil conservation practices.  Typically, a field will be planted to wheat for two consecutive years.  It will then be planted with canola (seeing hundreds of hectares of the yellow blossoms is dazzling) for a year.  Following that, it will be left fallow for 2 years.  All of the plant material that remains after harvest is worked back into the soil with toothed implements, rather than with plows or discs, to minimize disruption of the soil structure.  As a result, such fields host plentiful earthworms and other beneficial organisms that are not present in a heavy cultivation/heavy chemical use regime.  Soils in this region tend to be very thin and lacking in organic matter, so such practices are essential to long-term productivity.  I remember driving by one field in which the farmer had gathered rocks into large piles and the soil still appeared to have more stones than dirt.


Eureka Mills also produces rye flour, rye meal and crushed rye because of customer demand.  That rye is imported, since the local climate is not conducive to rye cultivation.  If it hadn’t been for my whining in one post about not finding rye flour locally, I might not have known about Eureka Mills.  MiniOven did some research on the Web, found out about Eureka Mills, and got me pointed in the right direction.


Nico works closely with a number of artisanal bakers (mostly from France or Italy, he notes) and with distributors to extend the use of Eureka Mills products.  He is frequently on the telephone with bakers, responding to their questions or requests; something that he values as much as they do.  South Africa is going through a dietary shift that, in many ways, is both parallel and linked to its social shifts.  Brown bread flour was not previously taxed, therefore it was cheaper for institutions (schools, prisons, etc.) and low income persons to use for their baking needs.  It now has a stigma as “poor peoples’ food” and the growing demand is for baked goods made with white flour.  At the same time, as more people have increasing affluence, there is also a nascent willingness to spend more for artisanal breads.  Most of the master bakers producing those artisanal breads are either Europeans or have European training, hence Nico’s comment that visitors to the mill tend to be foreigners.  Those bakers want to have a product they can trust and a person on whom they can rely to address their needs.


If you would like to visit the Eureka Mills website, the address is www.eurekamills.co.za. And, if you are in South Africa and would like to buy some of their flours or goods made with their flours, you can find a list of distributors and bakers on their website.


Future flour (the green fields in the middle distance, not the grasses in the foreground:


Wheat fields


 


The primary (stones) screen:



 


Secondary (trash) screens:


Secondary (trash) screens


 


Roller mills:


Roller mills


 


Stone mill (foreground) and sifter (background, right):


Stone mill and sifter


 


Cleaning up at the end of the shift.  Anything that lands on the floor is sold to a local farmer as cattle feed.:


Cleanup at end of shift


 


Mill expansion in progress:


Mill expansion


 


Nico Steyn, miller:


Nico Steyn

 

Comments

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

I very much enjoyed reading about and the photos of your venture to and through the mill.  Did you get a few bags of the gold?


Sylvia

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

since we were flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg the next day and we were already close to our weight limits for baggage.  The airlines would have charged me more for the flour than I would pay at the supermarket.  Still, it would have been nice to have some really, really fresh flour to play with.


Paul

proth5's picture
proth5

Because now I'm wondering mightily why my friends at Heartland Mills raved on about how perfect stone mills were for removing bran and why your miller finds that the stones get gummed up.


Of course, Heartland tempers for 36 hours for the roller mill and not at all for the stone mills.


And then there is that whole raging debate that whole wheat flour that has never been milled separately and recombined has a vastly superior taste...


Geez we need to get all of these small millers together.


Or I can head over to South Africa.  I've certainly got the frequent flyer miles.  (I do but joke - I don't think I have a flight like that in me just now...)


Very interesting...


Pat

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

much less any idea about the differences between Eureka Mills and Heartland Mills setups, I can only guess.  My first thought would also have been that stone grinding has been in use for millenia.  So, why wouldn't it have worked well for Eureka Mills?  One possibility: the moisture content of the wheat after tempering may work really well for the roller mill, but less so for the stone mill.  Or, there is something about the physical/chemical properties of the wheat used by Eureka Mills that causes it to adhere to the stones.  Or, some combination of those two?  Or, something else entirely?  If ignorance is bliss, I can't get much happier.


For the life of me, I can't imagine how a split-then-recombined WW flour would taste different than a milled-all-together WW flour when using the same wheat.  If all of the same stuff winds up in the same bag without contacting any other flavor-changing stuff along the way...


By all means, once you no longer feel that you have an airplane seat stapled to your backside, do visit South Africa.  It is a stunningly beautiful country.  My wife and I can even give you a base in Pretoria to operate from.


Some of Eureka Mills flour is exported to Bahrain and Nico has been approached by someone in the U.S. who is interested in importing some there.  Maybe someday you will have a chance to talk to him without enduring the 15-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg.


Paul   

proth5's picture
proth5

15 hours - don't tempt me...


Pat

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

...for taking the time to post it.


Seems their white flour is different from commercial unbleached AP flour in the USA.

Quote:
After tempering is completed, the wheat is sent through a series of 3 roller mills that separate the outer layer of bran from the inner endosperm and germ. The endosperm and germ are then ground between two granite burrs in a stone mill. The resulting (unbleached) white flour is packaged as either white bread flour or as cake flour (roughly equivalent to All Purpose flour in the U.S.).
Besides the inclusion of the germ, it appears there is no addition of malted barley or synthetic B vitamins. Is this right?

Like Proth5, I wondered why the bran clogged their stone mill but this will have to remain a mystery for the time being.


And, hey! Proth 5, I never knew that there was a raging debate about whole wheat flour that is milled entire vs. milling germ, bran and endosperm separately and then recombining them.


PS - pictures were great also.


PPS - a QUESTION for PMcCool - does Eureka Mills age their flour prior to sale? If yes, do you know anything about how long and the process involved? Have been searching for good info on commercial aging of flour for - well - ages!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Not only from US flours but also from other South African brands that do not include the germ.  And you read that correctly; the only thing in Eureka Mills flours is grain.  No malt, vitamins, nothing.


So far, I've only used the WW, whole rye, and cracked rye products.  Next time I need bread flour, I'll pick up a bag to see how it behaves.


I did not think to ask about aging.  My guess is that they don't.  What I buy off a store shelf may be aged by the time I purchase it but I did not see any holding space at the mill for aging flour.  I suspect that larger accounts, like bakeries, get "green" flour fresh from the mill.  Feel free to ask Nico via e-mail.


Paul

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Nico sent me a note saying that Eureka Mills does age its flours 3-4 weeks prior to shipment.  It is stored during the aging period in a building that I didn't enter during my visit, which is why I didn't see it.


Paul

proth5's picture
proth5

Oh, I've stood amongst a group of bakers where at least one one of them was Craig Ponsford and heard debated at length that it was important that "whole wheat" flour be milled from the whole grain and not recombined because the taste was vastly superior (didn't say the debate raged here.) Others contend that it is the stones themselves that give the grain its superior flavor.  (So what about grain milled in its entirety in metal burrs?) Why milling the whole grain would make such a difference is unclear, but...


People were fairly passionate about their opinions.


I have to wonder about the 18 hours of tempering vs 36 as is done at Heartland.  It does matter (according to the Heartland millers).  But the Heartland millers didn't like tempering wheat to be stone ground because they did not like the quality of bran they they obtained.


Also discussed was how the modern milling process puts enough oxygen in the process so that the flour needs only slight (1 week) aging.  Or not.  Disagreement there, also...


It never ends.

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

who have mills that are designed with a fixed grooved plate and a rotating grooved plate is that the germ and endosperm will be ground together in the first pass.


With a  home mill, it's the bran that typically will not mill finely on the first pass and shows up as brown flecks in the flour. Dedicated home millers (like you) then go through a series of sifting and remilling. The home miller may chose to remove some of the bran (producing a high extraction flour) OR more finely grind the separated bran and add it all back to the flour.


It seems to me that one important difference between home milling and commercial milling is the ability of commercial mills to remove the germ at the first "break". I don't know of any home mill that is capable of doing that.


A commercial mill that removes the germ early in the milling process and then grinds the germ separately and recombines it with flour milled from the endosperm may produce a flour with different baking properties than a milling process that removes only the harder outside of the bran.


Even with home milling, I am fascinated with the difference in flour produced by different kinds of mills available to the home baker.


When it comes the commercial milling, the variables that can be controlled and manipulated are infinitely more complex. No wonder that even the best known names in the artisan baking movement have differences of opinion.

EvaB's picture
EvaB

The one of the fields looks just like my area here in north east BC, rolling hills, covered by farms and lots of sky!


Right now though, we are in fall mode, the leaves are starting to turn, and its been raining and nasty cold.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

That part of the Cape is one farm after another.  Some with cattle, some with sheep, some with ostriches, some with crops.  And the terrain is quite a bit steeper than what I grew up with.  What the farmers there do with terracing on hillsides is most impressive.


We are sliding into Spring here, with the days lengthening and warming.  The rains will probably start later this month or early in October.


Paul

EvaB's picture
EvaB

it sure looks like farm country! What a lovely place to visit, and don't I wish I could, it would be nice to see how much its like here, but different too!


 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

For a fascinating visit.  Judging from their website, there certainly appears to be a strong artisan bread movement going on.  


Good soil management, too.  Feed the soil, not the plant.

flourwateryeast's picture
flourwateryeast

Thanks for the great write-up for your trip to Eureka. I use their flour for bread making all the time, living as I do in Cape Town. I am lucky enough that the local supermarket stocks all of their flours. Maybe next time I go through Heidelberg I must stop and have a look.


 


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

And fortunate to have easy access to Eureka Mills products. 


By all means, when/if you have the opportunity, do stop in for a visit.  It is a small operation, so you won't have to commit a large piece of your day.  Unless you and Nico want an extended chat, of course.


Paul