I came across Stoates Organic Flour in Baytree health food shop, Christchurch. I was so excited (I know, I don’t get out much these days) to find a locally produced flour that I contacted Stoates to ask if I could visit with my daughter and Michael Stoate kindly agreed.
Stoates flour is milled using traditional stone milling at Cann Mills, just outside Shaftesbury. The Mill – powered by water – has been there so long it’s mentioned in the Doomsday book.
About the Mill
This is the view of the valley Cann Mills is nestled in – pretty idyllic.
Michael Stoates is a 5th generation miller. His father, Norman, bought Cann Mills in 1947, it had previously been used to mill grain for animal feed. Sadly it had to be rebuilt in 1950 following a fire and was rebuilt in the style of that era using concrete, with a flat roof – which over the years was found to be impractical so has since been replaced.
Michael was in the middle of refurbishing his grain stores, so had builders onsite and in between overseeing the works and taking calls about orders, he kindly made time to show us round.
The milling process
With greater demand for flour, the mill has increased energy requirements, and the water wheel now provides a quarter of the power needed for milling.
The grain is ground between two round millstones made from limestones which are French Burr stone – all the way from the La Fete-sous-Jouarre region in France. This type of limestone has been used for over 200 years and is apparently considered to be the best stone for milling.
The two round stones grind the flour by turning inside this metal case (picture below), into which the grain is poured from the top.
The bottom stone, which is called the bed stone, remains stationary and the top stone, or runner stone rotates. The furrows on the face of the stones shear open the grain as the runner stone turns.
Once the flour has been milled, if it is going to be made into white flour or wholemeal flour with some of the bran extracted, it is passed through a mechanical sieve (see picture below) which is adjusted for different extraction rates – as it removes the bran (the outer layer of the grain). You can see the grain to the bottom left of the sieve on the mill floor – it’s sold on for pig feed.
Researchers have found that stone ground flour has a lower glycaemic index compared to flour produced industrially, using metal rollers. This is because the stones produce a coarser grain, so it is slower to digest and therefore releases its energy at a slower rate.*
The bran part of the grain which is completely removed in white flour (but retained In wholemeal flour) is rich in fibre vitamins B1, B2, B5, and the antioxidant vitamin E. It also has minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, copper, zinc and manganese and high levels of protein.
While it is high in all these nutrients, it also contains phytates, which inhibit absorption of iron, zinc, copper and calcium in the body and may harm the absorption of other minerals too. This is why it is recommended to have a good source of vitamin C (like orange juice) alongside these foods as the vitamin C can help enhance iron absorption. However, this doesn’t take account of absorption of other minerals, so it’s advisable to have a mixture of wholegrain and white flour in your diet.
How and where the grain is produced
I asked Michael whether in the current economic climate, the market for organic flour had suffered. It would seem not, as initially he produced 50% organic/50% conventionally produced flour. Today it’s 95% organic/5% conventional. So business is good and part of the reason for this, is people are baking their own bread. Also at the higher quality end of the market things have remained buoyant.
Having read about Stoates flour, I was surprised that not all the flour milled there is produced in the UK. At the moment 60% is from England – mainly within a 30 mile radius. In addition, Michael sources grain from Kazakhstan and Canada. The key reason for this is the gluten elasticity in the imported grain produces a loaf with a good structure. They also have huge plains, where it is possible to grow large quantities of wheat at lower cost, which is not easy to achieve in the UK. Michael’s suppliers from Kazakhstan and Canada are accredited by the IFOAM’s Organic guaranteed system which means they meet UK organic standards.
Award winning flour and where to buy it
Two of Stoates flours won Gold Great Taste awards from the Guild of Fine Food last year. The Maltstar won two Gold Stars for Taste and bread made with this blend of wheat, malt and rye has a distinctive malt flavour – I have bought some of this flour so will post a recipe for it soon. Actually, I made a loaf overnight, last night in the breadmaker and my daughter said it smelt delicious and ate a slice straight away with nothing on it.
The stoneground strong white flour achieved 1 star, Michael was particularly proud of this because Stoates is one of the few millers that produce this flour and it gives a creamy, rustic flavour.
Other flours milled by Stoates include:
Organic strong 100% wholemeal flour
Organic brown flour (81% extraction rate**)
Organic Spelt flour***
Organic Rye Flour
Organic brown self raising flour (81% extraction rate**)
Organic Plain white flour
Organic White self rasing flour
You can buy Stoates flour direct via their Bigbarn page
It is also possible to sample Stoates flour in these quality bakeries who use the flour in their bread:
Leakers bakery, Bridport, Dorset
Lighthouse Bakery School, Robertsbridge, East Sussex
Long Crichel Bakery, Wimborne, Dorset
Oxfords Bakery, Sherborne, Dorset
Quangle Wangle Foods, Semley, Dorset
The Phoenix Bakery, Weymouth, Dorest
The Town Mill Bakery, Lyme Regis, Dorset
Vicky’s Bread, Tresprison, Helston, Cornwall
Cann Mills hosts regular Panary breadmaking and pastry making courses, for beginners through to professionals.
They also supply Virtuous Bread who run breadmaking courses in London and around the UK. They also train people in the UK to become Bread Angels who set up their own bread making business, so they can earn money by working from home. The premise is that Bread Angels build relationships in their local communities by getting to know people and businesses. They provide access to good quality, artesian bread.
*Glycaemic index (GI) is a measurement of the effect of food on blood sugar levels, where the effect of glucose is 100%. So foods with lower GI release their sugars into the blood more slowly than glucose and are therefore less likely to cause insulin to be released which results in sugar being stored as fat.
**81% extraction rate brown flour contains less bran so makes for a less dense flour compared to wholemeal
***Anecdotally, people who suffer from gluten intolerance have reported that they can tolerate spelt flour products – despite the fact that it contains gluten.