“There’s so much information available when you buy a cup of coffee,” says Emily Salkeld. “You get a postcard with who grew it … you can often see the roaster sitting there, and it makes all the difference if it’s freshly roasted. It makes all the difference if it’s freshly ground.”
We’re standing in the HQ of Small World Bakery, which she runs with husband Chris Duffy on their 80-hectare Langhorne Creek property. It’s a region better known for its red wine production (Duffy previously worked as a contract winemaker and viticulturist). But Salkeld wants to boost a different kind of industry – a “local grain economy”. It’s not the sexiest sounding project. But there’s plenty of passion behind it.
So why are we talking about coffee? Salkeld wants the same level of transparency and awareness for Australia’s grain-growing industry. “We want [people] to think more about how that loaf got onto that chopping board,” she says. “That it came from a grain that a farmer grew. We’re so separated from that.”
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The so-called “movements” of paddock-to-plate and sea-to-table dining have gained momentum in recent years as more and more chefs and restaurateurs look to shorten the supply chain. They’re plotting their own kitchen gardens, cultivating their own farms and forming direct relationships with farmers and fishers. So why isn’t it the same for wheat?
It is overseas, says Salkeld. In parts of Europe “A baker or chef can go direct to a farmer and get top quality produce and use it fresh rather than it going on a circuitous route of dispatch and distribution and trucking,” she says.
“In Australia food travels such a long way. [Our] infrastructure is all geared toward shifting tonnes of food. Not 25-kilo bags of food. It’s turned into such a soulless enterprise for [the farmers] to grow a commodity grain.”
Salkeld and Duffy are going a step further – they’re on a mission to re-introduce ancient grains into Australia’s farming land. “They’re the ancestors of modern wheat,” says Salkeld. One of the more familiar of these is spelt. But before that it was emmer. And before that it was einkorn. Salkeld and Duffy are growing the latter two just four kilometres from their house. They’re also growing khorasan, which is “the ancestor of durum wheat,” says Salkeld. “It’s tricky to make bread out of but it’s fantastic for pasta.” The small samples have been acquired from the Australian Grains Genebank.
So why grow these obsolete grains? Put simply, “we want more diversity,” says Salkeld. “It’s in everybody’s favour to grow a lot of different kinds of crops – not just wheat – because that’s resilience in your paddock.” In theory, they’re also better for you. “In any food if there’s a darker colour on the skin of that food usually you have higher nutrition. You definitely have higher flavour – think of blueberries, red grapes, dark red tomatoes, dark leafy greens as opposed to light leafy greens.” The hues of the heritage grains are deeper than the wheat we’re accustomed to and vary between brick red, grey, dark brown, green and bright yellow.
Salkeld was inspired to seek out these long-forgotten grains after reading New York chef Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate. “It’s about using foods for flavour and to benefit the soil and farming systems … once I read that, I thought ‘Well you can’t un-know this’,” she says.
She and Duffy wanted to learn more, so they packed up and went across the world (with their two sons in tow) to speak to other craft bakers. “You don't know what you don’t know until you start knowing what you know,” she says.
A first taste of bread made with freshly milled flour opened their eyes to a new approach to baking. “It just blew me away,” says Salkeld. “The flavour was so different. It opened this door.”
In 2016 they commissioned a 40-inch stone mill from Vermont, USA. The shiny new toy arrived earlier this year. “When we felt that flour that came out and we tasted the bread … it all made sense,” says Salkeld. “People are really responding to the flavour of the bread … and we’re getting more orders.”
When milling your own, all the components of the wheat stays in, including the fats in the germ, says Salkeld. “When you feel the flour it has a lovely creaminess to it, and the fat carries flavour. There are a whole lot of phenolic compounds that contribute to the aroma and the flavour, as well.”
Inside the milling room I can smell the difference. Salkeld describes it as “a lovely milky, kind of creamy, grassy” aroma. Currently, parcels of wholegrain are sourced from NSW (until they can grow enough of their own). It’s then mixed with South Australian Laucke flour. “Blending is something bakers always do. You get benefits from different batches of flour.”
That flour is added to salt and water. That’s it. A naturally occurring leaven (or culture) helps the dough to ferment and rise (there’s no commercial baker’s yeast added). The slow fermentation process includes a stay overnight in the cool room, which helps it “develop a really nice crust when it’s baked,” says Salkeld.
The result? Chewy, dense loaves of toasty, slightly tangy sourdough that are impossible to resist. Salkeld turns out a selection of dark, light and raisin rye bread; wholewheat with red lentils and mixed seeds; a country wheat and rye blend; ciabatta; and khorasan spelt “miche”. Just add a dollop of soft cultured butter.
For all their ambition, Salkeld and Duffy’s operation is still remarkably small – it’s just the pair of them – and intensely personal. Duffy hand delivers oven-fresh bread on a custom Danish-made bicycle each Thursday. In May 2018 their delivery reach expanded beyond the CBD to the surrounding inner suburbs, so more of us can get our hands on a loaf. You can also catch them at the Willunga Farmers Market every Saturday. It’s all part of their quest to shorten the supply route, share information, and get people thinking about bread a little differently.