When people ask me why I build flour mills – including the massive one that now stands at the One Mighty Mill headquarters – the best answer I can give is that one thing led to another.
First, I was a chef. I went to culinary school, as did my wife, and we worked in restaurants for early part of our careers. Then, 13 years ago, we met a man who wanted to sell his bakery plus the adjoining house and surrounding 10 acres in Elmore, Vermont. We decided to buy it, spent a few weeks with him learning how to bake his breads, and have run the business successfully ever since.
About five years ago, I got really interested in flour. We’d always used your typical refined white from a supplier in Quebec. But I knew another baker who was grinding his own flour in an Austrian-made mill, and I wanted to try it, too. I asked him which model I should buy, but – because he knew that I’d already designed our bakery’s wood-fired oven and was looking for a new challenge -- he challenged me to build my own mill. He said I should do it in the old-fashioned way, with granite stone.
Thus began a year of research into mill design. I looked at old patent documents, design plans and books on 19th century milling. I learned that, before the advent of industrial roller mills, there were once 20,000 stone mills in towns all over the United States; farmers would bring their wheat and millers would grind into fresh flour for the surrounding communities. I was inspired by those traditional mills but had my own ideas about how to build a more modern machine with sleek lines and easier controls that today’s bakers would love. I drew up the plans. I ordered granite stones from North Carolina. I asked a friend who’s a metal worker to help me construct the frame. And I built my very first mill.
Stone milling wheat is a craft and you literally have to keep your nose to the grindstone. You take the wheatberries, which are seeds, and loaded them into the stainless steel hopper at the top of the mill. They trickle slowly down a chute past two large spinning granite discs. In the OMM mill, which is the largest I’ve made, these stones are 48in in diameter and 8in thick, and they weigh about 1,200 lbs each. Their job is to crush and break down the berries, but, unlike roller mills, they don’t strip them of anything. Everything that goes in the machine – not just the starchy endosperm but also the fiber-rich bran the nutrient-packed germ – comes out the other side. Then the ground flour falls into either a collector or a sifter, which we and OMM both use to take just a bit bran off for a lighter texture. A large machine will produce about 200lbs of flour an hour. And nothing else – no preservatives or other additives – goes in after that.
After building my own mill, my wife and I connected with local wheat farmers and slowly transitioned our bakery from white to whole wheat flour over the next six months. Customers would say, “Something tastes different, wheatier” – and more importantly – “better.” Our baker friends were paying attention and began asking if I could build mills for them, too. I hadn’t every intended to be in that business, but I’d put so much time and energy into my design, I decided to at least build a couple and see where we could go. I made one for a friend in Connecticut, then people in New Orleans, Canada and Rhode Island. Three years later, I’ve shipped 40 mills – to locations as far afield as Ireland and Australia. There’s now about a four-month wait list for my New American Stone Mills.