This age-old French children’s song sounds a warning that today’s miller must heed like generations of millers before him or her. A mill that spins too fast increases the risk of an explosion because the silex stones can produce sparks that might set fire to the flour and dust particles present in the air and a mill that spins too hard might crush the grain and give the flour a stony taste. Patrick, the head miller at the mill on the Rémy, describes his work as organoleptic: he must constantly listen to the stones, touch the flour and smell the air to make sure the mill is spinning correctly. Any unusual vibration or creaking noise and he springs to action.
Fortunately for him, the mill doesn’t operate 24/7. It needs to produce about 60 kg of flour a day for the bakery and since it can mill 200 kg of flour an hour, it is easy to see that it actually remains idle most of the day. When I asked Jean-Claude Bernier, the man in charge of the whole mill/bakery operation from the restoration work to day-to-day business decisions, why the mill wasn’t working at full capacity, he told me that the millers only process locally grown wheat, which means they are dependent on the harvest. The goal is to have enough reserves to meet the needs of the bakery for one full year. When it is met (and it should be very soon), measures will be taken to start selling the flour on a larger scale. Right now flour, germ and bran can only be bought retail through the bakery.
No school exists for millers who want to mill grain with stones the old-fashioned way. Patrick who, in his other life, made a living “planting trees” (as he put it), had to learn on the job and from reading any book he could find on the subject. He has been at it for 4 years and he is hooked. So is Ernest, the other miller.