Emily Salkeld had been running sourdough Small World Bakery south-east of Adelaide for six years before she really started thinking about flour. “Like most bakers, we thought about flour in terms of function, the way it performs in bread,” she says. “When we thought about flavour, we were really thinking about the flavour of fermentation not the base product.”
Four years ago, she was at Tivoli Road Bakery in Melbourne. “They had a small benchtop stonemill to add freshly milled flour to their bread,” she recalls. “I tasted the loaf. There was a creaminess, flavours to do with the field, the grain itself, not the fermentation. It stimulated my inner baking nerd.” She and her husband Chris Duffy closed their bakery for a year and dove deep into wheat, travelling to Europe and the USA, talking, learning, eating.
By understanding the trajectory of modern wheat, they worked out how they wanted to change tack. In the middle of the 20th century, technology and market forces drove farmers to grow wheat for yield and disease resistance rather than flavour. “Modern wheat was bred to grow more quickly so it could be harvested before disease had a chance to develop,” she says. “We want to show there’s an alternative.”
Now they grow their own grain on leased plots, as well as buying grain from selected local farmers, before stonemilling the wheat to use in their bread. One of the most rewarding aspects has been the connection to growers. She was in one of her plots recently and asked her neighbour farmer how she would know when the grain was ready to harvest. “He pulled up one of our wheat plants, chewed on the stem, then said, ‘It’s still sweet which means the plant is active and the grain is still developing.’ He was so gratified to tell me that. Farmers are astounded that a baker is speaking to them about what’s in their paddock – no one has done that for 30 years.”
Salkeld has been a bread nerd for ages. Now she’s a wheat nerd too. “Wheats come in different colours: blue, purple, dark brown, light brown, light red, dark red,” she says. “I love a red wheat called Marquis. I love the dark red colour in the bran and the bread made from it is so delicious with a malty tea character I really like.”