Vermont baker Gérard Rubaud is the one who introduced me to on-site milling. Before meeting him back in the fall of 2009, I had never personally seen a baker mill grain and immediately use the resulting flour in his levain or his dough. To say I was taken by the flavors and aromas would be a huge understatement: I wasn’t taken, I was floored, I was smitten, I was conquered. I would never approach the taste of bread in the same way again.
Gérard used a small standalone electric mill. But what he recommended to serious home bakers was a much more affordable hand grinder that could be bought from the Lehman Hardware’s catalog (see Building a levain “à la Gérard” – Step 1.) He sent me home with grains (wheat, spelt and rye) and I ordered the grinder.
I had huge expectations for this grinder and I am sure it worked just fine for most people or Gérard wouldn’t have been recommending it. Sadly though it never worked for me. I had a difficult time securing it to the counter, the settings kept switching and I consistently got more cracked grain than flour.
Back at square one, I started exploring other solutions and finally decided to buy a countertop electric mill. After much research, I settled on the Komo Classic (then sold under the name Tribest Wolfgang KM-001 Grain Mill.)
It cost an arm and a leg but it has been seven years and I still use it almost every day. I don’t mean to say that I don’t ever use store-bought all-purpose flour. Of course I do and I still love the delicate flavor of a carefully fermented white poolish baguette or ciabatta. But I also love the palette of flavors you have at your disposal when you have a selection of grains to pick from (red and white wheat, spelt, khorasan, rye, einkorn, teff, rice, etc.) as well as the nutritional benefits that come from using more than just the starchy endosperm.
In fact I was on the phone with Gérard Rubaud a couple of days ago and he suggested strongly that I make my own white flour. I laughed incredulously but he was serious: he said he had fashioned a small sifter for himself with four pieces of wood and some kind of plastic mesh and he was able to sieve out most of the bran, leaving him with an almost white flour of the kind that produces marvelous flavor and a tremendous energy boost during fermentation. He said his thinking had evolved over the years and that he now believed that the fresher flour the better and more flavorful the bread.
Whole grains speak with accents of the terroir. Nothing evokes Provence more readily for me that the memory of the einkorn breads I ate there. Buckwheat crêpes taste very differently in France and in the United States. Varieties differ. Climate, water and soil play a role. I once received a few pounds of Canadian Red Fife wheat from a baker in British Columbia. The flavor was astonishing. I later ordered Red Fife from another source. The flavor was very different, more subtle, less rustic. Which was fine. Different grains for different breads. Nothing like trying new grains or new varieties to open your tastebuds to other realms of taste.
Commodity grain doesn’t have the same personality. Like an anchor on a national network, it doesn’t speak with a regional accent. I bought some in bulk from my local natural food store to use in a bread I bake nearly every week and I found it disappointingly bland, although my puppy didn’t complain when I recycled the leftover grain into treats for her. Maybe because I added some bacon fat for flavor?
Access to local grain is not a given. Where I live, I have access to flavorful local flours (in 1.5 lb bags) but not to grain. But because it is so easy to store grain (as opposed to whole-grain flour which turns rancid if not kept in the fridge or freezer), I still have grain leftover from my Northeast stash. Other grains I buy in bulk online, for instance from Camas Country Mill which sells Edison hard white, a terrific wheat which has become my go-to grain (if you want to buy grain from them, better call than place an order online or you will be sent flour,) or from Breadtopia, a site that I can only describe as a home baker’s heaven.
I would love to buy my grain closer to home though. And not only because of the carbon footprint. I love the idea of being a small cog in the revival of the local grain economy. If enough of us cogs start turning together, we can make a difference. Of course if you are lucky enough to live near a mill, you may not need to mill much. I was way less motivated to mill my own grain when we lived within close driving distance of Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill in Burlington, Washington.
Amy Halloran, author of The New Bread Basket keeps an updated list of mills on her website. I am hoping to do the same for farmers who sell their grain directly to consumers, either onsite or online, across the country (or even abroad for those of us who don’t live in the US.) I only have a few names so far. I would welcome any suggestion and will post a list on a constantly updated page as soon as I have more.
But access to local grain doesn’t mean much if you don’t have a way to mill. So a few weeks ago when I was contacted by Paul Lebeau, Managing Director of Wolfgang Mock who wanted to talk to me about the Mockmill, I was interested.
The Mockmill is an attachment, not a standalone mill, and therefore more affordable. It works with KitchenAid, AEG, Electrolux, and Kenmore stand mixers. With a price tag of less than $200 (sometimes less than $150 when there is a sale), it makes milling more accessible to more serious home makers. That’s what caught my attention.
In the interest of full disclosure, please note that Paul sent me a Mockmill for free with no strings attached: I didn’t have to mention it on Farine if I didn’t like it and no moneys would ever be exchanged.
The Mockmill comes in three parts: the hopper, the mill and a long screw. An instruction booklet is also provided. For technical details, press reviews and other info, please check out the Mockmill’s webpage.
You attach the mill to your stand mixer, secure it with the long screw, then mount the hopper. You fill the hopper with the grain of your choice, then select the grind.
You may have to go way below the finest setting on the body of the mill to get as fine a grind as you like (see where the arrow is on the above photo) but as long as you know that it is possible, I don’t see that as a problem. The first few times I didn’t dare go too far below the finest indicated setting with the result that I got coarsely milled flour and a lot of intact or half-cracked grains. Now I get the grind I want with barely any grain left unmilled. But if I need cracked grain, it does that too. No problem.
Fast, it ain’t. Or rather, it goes only as fast as the speed you select on your mixer. Of course the faster the speed the noisier the process. But the noise comes from the mixer, not from the mill. Personally I don’t find the slow speed or the noise to be a problem. I just fill the hopper with the amount of grain I want to mill (please note that you can’t mill more 5 pounds of grain in one session or you’ll wear out the motor on your mixer) and go do something else for a few minutes. I like it very much that the flour doesn’t heat up. Even at full speed the temperature of the flour hovers around 85° F.
I have been told that some bakers leave the Mockmill attached to their mixer on a permanent basis, which makes it super convenient for milling on demand. But you don’t need to as it is very easy to attach and secure.
In a nutshell, I think the Mockmill is a valid option for those of us home bakers who are eager to join the back-to-the-grain movement and start milling their own flour. It is certainly more affordable than a countertop mill. The caveat of course is that you need a stand mixer to attach it to.
Would I buy it today if I didn’t have my little Komo? Most likely. But then I have been milling my own flour for so long now that I can’t imagine being without a mill: for me bread, waffles, pancakes, crackers, cookies, pasta, tarts, pies, pizza, in fact pretty much everything in my kitchen starts with a handful of grain.