Bakers revive ancient grains and heritage wheat for a tastier bread

Landline

By Kerry Staight

Updated

July 13, 2018 13:21:36

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Following the “paddock to plate” model, two bakers decided to grow heritage wheat — so they can make better “dough”. (Landline: Tony Hill)
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Australia
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Emily Salkeld and Chris Duffy planting heritage grains on their plot. Photo:
The business sources a variety of older wheats and grains for cooking and growing including Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt and Khorasan. (Landline: Tony Hill)
In the meantime the old world grains are making modern farming and baking a lot more interesting.”We keep finding out about more interesting ones that perhaps we might request,” Ms Salkeld said.”It’s pretty hard to stop actually. In the middle of a vineyard at Langhorne Creek in South Australia is an unusual sight in a territory known for its red wine — a patch of unfamiliar mixed grains.The trial plot is home to 15 varieties of old wheat and ancient grains.It was planted by local bakers Emily Salkeld and Chris Duffy, who are on a mission to add more flavour to bread.”We were interested to see whether there was something that could perform really well in our fields, but we could bring it into the bakery and see what kind of wildness can be there in those flavours,” Ms Salkeld said. (Landline: Kerry Staight)
“We couldn’t work out why that was, but they flattened a couple.”After starting with just 100 seeds of each variety, the couple hopes to have enough to start adding a bit of heritage to their commercial loaves in 2020. (Landline: Tony Hill)
While fungal diseases knocked yields about, the pair was happy with the amount of quality grain they harvested even with a last-minute invasion from unexpected trespassers.”We accommodated a family of kangaroos … in one of the varieties,” the bakers said. Photo:
Ms Salkeld and Mr Duffy sow more heritage grain each year. (Landline: Kerry Staight)
The former cheesemaker set up Small World Bakery with Mr Duffy, a qualified viticulturalist, about a decade ago. It was released in 1901 and helped establish Australia as a significant grain producer.”The first seed breeder that really gained national acclaim was William Farrer and he was the one that bred Federation Wheat,” Ms Salkeld said.”He was a really innovative farmer that worked in the late 1800s to try to find wheats that would be more resilient to the Australian climate.”While flavour rather than yield is the focus of their cropping program, the grains still have to be hardy enough to make it worthwhile.A wetter than normal spring last year tested the less disease-resistant old varieties, with stem rust setting in.”It’s very easy to understand why they’re scarce,” Mr Duffy said.”They’re difficult to grow, they’re certainly not as robust in many aspects compared to more modern wheat varieties and they’re much harder to process.”But at the end of all of that you can have something that’s pretty special.”

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Delicious sourdough straight from the oven of Small World Bakery. Photo:
Chris Duffy from Small World Bakery grinding flour with a 40″ stone mill (Landline: Tony Hill)
In 2014 the sourdough specialists decided to take the next step and produce some of their own ingredients, after sampling freshly milled flour and bread made out of older grains that were hard to come by but full of flavour.”To be honest I’d never thought that wheat could have an identity,” Ms Salkeld said.”I think that was something that was a bit of a bombshell for me.”Think of spices and nuts and grass and hay, some fruit characteristics sometimes.”

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Kevin Murray from the Australian Grains Genebank aims to increase and collect stocks of crop wild relatives and endemic plant species. (Landline: Kerry Staight)
They recently sowed an area that’s 15 times larger than what they planted last year after leasing land from local farmer James Stacey.”I could use this paddock to grow wheat to try and compete with the Russians and the Ukrainians,” Mr Stacey said.”But I can make more money out of leasing it to these guys to grow their old varieties to sell into a premium market.”

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Plots of various grains at Langhorne Creek in South Australia, less than an hour from Adelaide. (Landline: Carl Saville)
The couple is surprised but pleased to see several other farmers also showing an interest in their project.”I think there’s room for all scales and all sizes of agricultural production systems,” Mr Duffy said.”And this might be one way on a smaller scale and within a local community that you can get viable crop alternatives for people on less land or perhaps higher value land.”Reviving the past is unlikely to return a big profit for the bakers in the short term, but Mr Duffy believes their investment will pay off down the track. It’s pretty addictive.”This story will be on Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday Photo:
Chris Duffy (background) and his sons harvesting and experimenting with grain on a trial plot. Photo:
Ms Salkeld uses ancient techniques and heritage grains to offer a product aiming at taste rather than output. (Landline: Kerry Staight)
The couple planted just under half and have since narrowed the shortlist down to 15 varieties, including grains from North America, the Middle East and Europe.The global mix features several red wheats which Ms Salkeld says aren’t favoured in the Australian baking industry, but have a stronger flavour.Looking back to look forward — looking forward to look back

Federation Wheat One of the first crops planted by colonists, wheat became Australia’s most important crop even though early harvests were poor.William Farrer experimented with crossbreeding wheats and produced a black-stem rust and drought resistant variety called Federation wheat. (Landline: Kerry Staight)
“If you want to make money in baking — make doughnuts filled with Nutella,” he said.”That’s what makes money, but that’s not really what we’re about.””There’s no doubt that we’re supporting it right now, but I’m confident enough that there’s a future.”

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In order to make good dough it is best to knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and combined. The iconic Australian variety Federation Wheat has also made the cut. (Landline: Tony Hill)
The pair sourced their older varieties from the Australian Grains Genebank at Horsham in Victoria, a collection of 140,000 different types of seeds.It supplied small packets of about 80 possible starters including Einkorn, Emmer and Khorasan, which Ms Salkeld says are basically the parents of modern wheat.