by Sabine Rhyne
High atop a beautiful hill west of Windsor, VT, sits a yellow house with a garage beside it, like countless other farmhouses across our region. But this garage opens to reveal a particularly romantic story of local connection. The main characters, Zach Stremlau and Daniella Malin, are striving to truly connect food and place, through the fine art of breadmaking. On one side of the converted garage, a bakery—complete with wood table and amazing wood-fired cob ovens—and on the other, the gristmill and barrels of grains.
The tale starts back in childhood. Daniella admitted to a long association with the Co-op, making a batch of cookies when she was in high school, and bringing them into the Flat Street edition of the Brattleboro Food Co-op to sell. Her husband Zach, originally from Kentucky by way of California, made his way to the Connecticut River valley, baking and learning, thinking and developing an idea over thirty years. He baked at King Arthur Flour for several years, and spent over five years living at the Cobb Hill community with Daniella. Though his love of artisanal baking was firmly established, he then began to see the special nature of establishing community with suppliers and customers. Realizing that “local” bread was indeed baked locally, but used few local ingredients, Green Mountain Flour was born. “I wanted to work to bring some of the community with me,” he explained. Thus began the journey of sourcing grains from local farmers (a journey constantly fraught with challenges), milling with a stone gristmill, and baking in a wood-fired cob oven, which they built on site.
Typically, bakers are far removed from the source of their flours. But Daniella, who now does most of the sourcing, has experienced this relationship quite intimately. They look first in Vermont, then regionally. They seek grain crops that are sustainably farmed, preferably organically. Wheat has been a particular challenge recently, with crops failing for various reasons. In this area, many wheat farmers lost their crops to a toxin that occurs when conditions are wet when the wheat flowers. Farther west, many other farmers lost their crops to drought. But somehow, Daniella was able to find organic wheat from a farmer in upstate New York, and her next crop was from a group of farmers in Maine. Organic wheat has been so hard-hit lately that most U.S. mills have been importing grain from Argentina. At this point, Green Mountain’s wheat is from Maine.
In establishing their brand niche, Zach and Daniella also chose stone milling because grinding with stone is generally believed to create healthier flour. “The stone milling process crushes the entire grain—bran and germ included—thus keeping the grain whole and spreading the oils evenly,” they explained in their business plan. “By contrast, roller milling flattens and separates the different parts of the grain: the germ, bran, and endosperm. These are then recombined to create a ‘whole wheat’ flour and much of the germ, and healthy oils in it, are never returned to the flour. The result of stone milling is a more nutritious, more whole and more flavorful grain.”
Further, as the flours that they mill are particularly fresh, flavors are more noticeable and, like all fresh products, they can vary from batch to batch with the particular characteristics of that field’s grain. You can find Green Mountain Flour’s super fresh flours in the bulk department and in the grocery department’s baking section.
Finally, the breads that Green Mountain Flour bakes are baked in their wood-fired cob oven, where the wood that they use is also sourced from local woodsmen who, like farmers and bakers, complete the truly local chain.
For Zach and Daniella, the challenge of making this process a truly local one makes for true community as in days gone by, where “the farmers knew the miller, the miller milled with stone, and the baker baked with fire.” See if you can taste the history!
Meet Daniella from Green Mountain Flour at the Co-op on Friday, November 7, from 11 am-2 pm!