My visit to Central Milling
I'm a compulsive baker. When I'm in a grocery store, sometimes I walk down the baking ingredients aisle, even if I don't need anything, just to look. Pulling a freshly baked apple pie or loaf of bread from the oven, with its aroma wafting through the house with the promise of deliciousness to come, is one of the most enjoyable experiences in life, in my opinion.
I'm also an engineer who needs to understand how things work. Baking fascinates me. The transformation of simple ingredients - flour, water, yeast and salt - into a living piece of dough, and then nourishing loaf of bread that feeds the soul as well as the body is the fascinating intersection of science, the senses, and the spiritual.
Lest anyone think I'm an expert baker, let me assure you I've had plenty of duds: gloppy underdone pies, bricks for bread, sourdough cinnamon rolls that were so sour they made my mouth pucker - and not in a good way.
So I'm here, and you're probably reading this, because I want to understand and apply the secrets of good baking, one of which is quality ingredients. Now you can make a decent loaf a bread from store bought flour; I've used King Arthur and Gold Medal Better for Bread in the past. But in an effort to bake healthier breads, I wanted to find a full-flavored whole wheat flour that wasn't bitter. That's challenging since whole wheat flour is more perishable due to the oil in the germ. References from the Fresh Loaf and from Artisan I  and Artisan II  classes at SFBI  point to Central Milling , who produces Whole Foods' 365 Organic Unbleached All Purpose flour. They also sell unbleached white flour at Costco, under the Central Milling label.
I contacted Nicky Giusto at Central Milling to ask about ordering whole wheat flour directly from the Utah mill. To my surprise, he said I could swing by Petaluma (in the SF bay area) and buy directly from their warehouse! I met Nicky yesterday just after he returned from delivering some flour to the Culinary Institute of America in Napa.
Nicky, 4th generation in the flour/baking business, set up and is running this west coast warehouse, which has been in existence for less than a year. Nicky was very helpful, freely sharing information about the different flours and which ones to use for what you want to bake. We talked about the business, the wheat market, and the quality of their flour, starting from the seeds they supply to the farmers.
Although the Petaluma warehouse doesn't stock every type of Central Milling flour, they still have quite a selection. This picture shows a depleted supply, deliveries having been made throughout the week.
It was good to hear how Central Milling keeps a close connection to the farmers who grow the grain. In fact, the photo in the Central Milling logo is of Farmer Brown, the great great grandfather of the Washington farmer who now grows grain for their Organic Whole Wheat Acme Hi-Pro Fine flour.
And they do sell a lot of flour to Acme:
I ended up w/ 2 50lb bags of flour plus a little extra:
- 50 lbs Organic Whole Wheat Acme Hi-Pro Fine: High protein, especially good for pan breads. Although you can make a 100% whole wheat loaf with it, Nicky suggested mixing it with some white flour, I think for some softness.
- 50 lbs Artisan Bakers Craft white flour w/ malted barley flour. This bag he threw in for free, since the bag had gotten a tear (which they taped up) and so couldn't be sold commercially.
- 2 bags of pancake mix, regular buttermilk and whole wheat buttermilk, just to try. You may notice that the pictures used on these packages of pancake mix are the same pictures to be found on Whole Foods 365 brand of pancake mix.
In the future, I'll probably be coordinating with others to split 50 lb bags of flour.
If you are interested in buying flour from the Petaluma warehouse, contact Nicky via phone - his number is shown at the top of the Central Milling products webpage  - to arrange your visit. Although they aren't set up to sell to a high volume of people, Nicky is quite happy to sell to enthusiasts on an occasional basis. Just be prepared to take your flour in 50 lb increments. If there's a bag already opened, he is willing to sell a smaller quantity. Working on the website is on Nicky's To Do list.
I have no affiliation with Central Milling - just an enthusiast looking for quality flour.