Back in 1122, many Englanders rushed off to the crusades to recapture the Holy Land. It was also a time of turbulence in Europe and, on home soil, ’bandits’ roamed, often stealing from the rich and poor alike. But one haven of tranquillity, Castleford Mill, West Yorkshire, simply went about its daily work, milling products to support the local community. It was safe from marauding hands because it had a job to do.
Fast-forward to 1898. Queen Victoria is on the throne and a new, much larger mill stands on the site. Barges are busy delivering big loads of wheat, grown by nearby farmers, and the mill is known throughout the county.
Fast-forward again to 2009, and Castleford has another claim to fame: it is a major new brand of flour, launched by ADM Milling and named after the mill where it is produced. It is 100% stone-ground wholemeal flour. Nothing else is milled here. And it is delivered nationwide.
The mill’s heritage, though, is still apparent and the 1898 structure still stands. Castleford is the largest stone-ground flour mill in the world, with an output of five tonnes per hour. It is also one of the UK’s only genuine stone-grinding mill that uses French burr stones. Head miller Reuben Woolass says: "They are the best stones in the world for grinding wheat and producing flour. The actual stones make all the difference to the flavour."
He explains the skill in looking after the stones, called ’dressing’, has been handed down from father to son for generations. Castleford Mill has 20 pairs of large French burr stones. One pair is always being dressed (sharpened), with the instrument used resembling a cross between a heavyweight hammer and a machete.
== Wheat quality ==
To obtain 100%, premium-quality, stone-ground wholemeal flour, you first need the finest wheat. It must be plump, not at all shrivelled, and this, in turn, depends on world climatic conditions. So the wheat may be Canadian, German or, in a really good year, mainly British. When customers include names such as Warburtons, leading craft bakers and end-product retailers like Marks & Spencer, one gets an idea of the demanding standards. "Our quality control is fantastic," boasts Kenny Wood, who has been milling on-site for 45 years and still cares passionately about quality. "Rubbish in equals rubbish out," he states plainly. "We have none of that here!"
== Shapes and recipes ==
Keith Wooller, ADM’s national technical manager, runs a team of six looking after craft and large bakeries. He is responsible for new product development and technical issues. In the test bakery at Castleford, he takes two British Baker staff through their paces, making different shapes and recipes with the Castleford 100% wholemeal stone-ground flour. Some shapes look very appealing - among them wheels, knots, cobbs and plaits. "They’re great for weekends, parties or just having family and friends around," says Wooller. Importantly, he adds: "If bakers can create something a bit different they can charge a bit more."
Meanwhile, the wholemeal breads and honey, pine nut and date loaves turn out to be delicious. As we cut and taste, Wooller relates an anecdote: once, when he was with an in-store manager who was talking to him and another person at the same time, the manager requested a 7lb duck. So Wooller duly went and made a loaf in the shape of a 7lb duck, labelled and presented it.
"I was talking to the butcher!" said the in-store manager. "Oh really?" said Wooller, in mock amazement. He’s received a Xmas card from the manager ever since.
Castleford is a gristing mill as opposed to a blending mill. Woolass explains that grist to a miller is the same as a recipe to a baker. "We mix different types and grades of wheat to produce the grist, then mill it into flour. A blending mill mills the wheat into a base flour and mixes the flours. A gristing mill has the advantage of being a more power-efficient plant, due to there being no need for a blending plant, as it produces a much narrower range of products. As such, it can more easily meet finished flour specifications without the need to mix a higher number of grades into a homogenous blend."
When the wheat arrives at Castleford mill by road, it goes through a separator to divide the wheat from the chaff (straw, stones, barley). Then it flows over an aspirator to blow out the dust before the wheat is stored in one of 14 silos. Next, 16% water is added - critical for moisture in the grain. Then it stands for 24 hours.
Next comes the really important action when it is fed into the 4ft diameter stone grinders and emerges as beautifully milled flour.
== Versatile brand ==
Melanie Somerville, marketing manager for ADM, says: "Castleford is a premium flour, steeped in history and full of goodness. It can be used by plant and craft bakers for everything from wholemeal tins to artisan products and ethnic breads such as chapatis. It is also good for biscuits, scones, pastries and pizza bases."
At the moment, the flour is on special offer at £6.95 per 16kg sack. Says Somerville: "The nation is really keen on nostalgic products and there is so much nostalgia and authenticity associated with this flour. It is solely stone-ground; there is no other milling machine involved."
History, it seems, cannot only teach us a lot, but can also produce a highly traditional flour, featured in products now hitting the headlines for being healthy, tasty, and rich in fibre - and, if necessary, shaped like a duck.
=== The French burr stones ===
l Castleford boasts 20 pairs of milling stones
l One pair is always being ’dressed’ - scored, grooved and sharpened - which takes a week per stone
l Each stone weighs 1.5 tonnes and measures 4ft in diameter
l French burr stones are known as the Rolls Royce of milling stones
l These ’sudden death’ milling stones were first used in 1865
l The stones sit on top of each other and each one is held in place by a steel band
l The top stone rotates, while the bottom stone is still
l An 11kw motor drives the top stone at 135 revs per minute
l Each stone contains six to eight lines per inch and takes three days to sharpen
l Each stone is dressed three times a year