What is fresh and local bread? Ask the majority of bread eaters and consumers, and they will tell you it is bread hot from the oven, made in a nearby bakery, or at home by a relative or a friend. Bread that tastes fresh—that is, not stale.1
However, a growing number of chefs, writers, researchers, bread enthusiasts, commercial craft bakers, and even industrial bakeries have a different answer. They tell us to look upstream at bread’s most important ingredient: flour.
This is where milling comes into the equation. As one of the most decisive factors in making good bread, milling is not only about flour, its resulting product, but largely about grain. Bread begins with flour, and flour begins with grain. Making bread is a process from earth to hearth.
Wild grains (e.g., barley, einkorn, and emmer) were collected by hunter-gatherers living in the Fertile Crescent more than 22,500 years ago, long before the invention of agriculture. Archeologists have found numerous grindstones in pre-agricultural settlements.2 Grain and bread played major roles in hunter-gatherer cultures and civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, in pagan traditions and monotheistic religions, and in Medieval and Renaissance cultures that led into European—and now global—industrialization and modernity. None of this would have been possible without agriculture, grinding, and milling.
The industrialization of farming and milling has radically altered the availability and nature of grains of bread-making quality, principally wheat. Industrialists have forsaken the nutritional value of wheat, and consequently of bread, in the pursuit of productivity and standardization.3 All of this came also at the expense of people’s health and of local sustainability, at the farming, milling, and baking levels.
Milling is an essential link between the grain we sow and harvest, the bread we make and eat, the people we relate to from farm to table, and how we think about ourselves as humans living on a planet with limited resources. Putting industrial roller-milling into question and reclaiming transparency, integrity, and autonomy concerning an ingredient as basic as flour are a means to a greater end: craft bread made with fresh stone-ground flour, with locally-sourced grain that was bred and grown with terroir—not commodity—in mind.
From earth to hearth, the art of bread engages us—with the heart—in a deep exploration of the connections that support us and the know-how that empowers us. In this feature, BREAD Magazine looks at milling from the perspective of people who have found a cause in grain and flour, and who wholeheartedly drive the grain-to-bread movement to new heights.
- Abdu Gnaba, in his book Anthropologie des mangeurs de pain (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2011), and Steven L. Kaplan, in his book Good Bread is Back (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), have interpreted and analyzed the Frenchs’ desire to eat freshly-baked bread.
- William Rubel, Bread: A Global History (London: Reaktion Books, 2011), 10‒38.
- Ferris Jabr, “Bread is Broken,” The New York Times, Oct. 29, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/magazine/bread-is-broken.html.