Stop two on our Visit Mesa: Fresh Foodie Trail brought us to Hayden Flour Mills on Sossamans Farms in Queen Creek (visit this link for part one: Joe's Farm Grill and Agritopia). I've been a big fan ever since buying my first bags of 00 flour, White Sonora wheatberries, and scone mix at the Bodega Market in Scottsdale.
Jeff Zimmerman and his daughter Emma were inspired by Charles Hayden, who founded Hayden Flour Mill in 1874 in Tempe using stone mills and locally-sourced grain. Keeping in this spirit of agricultural authenticity, Hayden Flour Mills' flour is milled from the same heritage wheat grown by Hayden - White Sonora. We gathered together in the tour room of Hayden Flour Mills as Emma Zimmerman told us more about her family's company and the history of the ancient grains they use. "Wheat is not an indigenous crop," she told us. "White Sonora is the first grain that came to North America. Jesuit missionaries brought it with them and it caught on as a great alternative to corn." The Zimmermans started with a small amount of donated seed from this rare strain of wheat, eventually growing enough to mill. James Beard award-winning Chef Chris Bianco "was the restaurant champion for us," Emma said. For three years the Zimmermans operated out of a space in the back of his restaurant Pane Bianco, before moving to Sossaman Farms last year.
Sossaman Farms had been growing their White Sonora wheat since 2012 and was naturally the perfect location. "The farmer and his wife rebuilt this for us," Emma told us. "It was really just a storage barn and they turned it into this beautiful space." This allows Hayden Flour Mills to have all processing done on site - growing, harvesting, cleaning, storing and milling. Smaller farms grow other ancient grains they've added to their repertoire, such as Tibetan Purple Barley, Red Fife Wheat, Blue Beard Durum, and Emmer Farro sourced from heritage seed libraries. "They may have saved a pound, for example, like Blue Beard Durum," explained Emma, "and we grew that until we had enough to mill commercially."
The milling process is just as painstaking and we had the rare opportunity to see the stones as Master Miller Ben Butler was in the process of "dressing" them. "Stones get dull and need sharpening, or in the miller’s term, 'dressing', a long, tedious process," said Ben. This periodic maintenance is a necessary and time-consuming step. As the stones wear down and become smooth, the milled grains will become coarse and gritty instead of light and fluffy.
First, the machines are taken apart and the grinding surfaces of the stones with "lands" (the flat areas) and "furrows" (or grooves) are painted red with a paste of flour, water, and food coloring.
The stones are then put together and the mill reassembled. Once the machine is turned on, the stones are allowed to rotate against each other before the mill is turned off to check the markings. These markings show where spots that aren't flush need air hammering and redressing. "Then you take it apart, repaint, let it dry, put it together, find new high spots, air hammer, and start again. It can take anywhere from a few hours or a few days depending on how bad the millstones are and how long it’s been," Ben noted.
He also showed us a German Osttiroler mill that has self-sharpening stones. It was a fascinating education on this artisan technique and a better understanding of what "stone-ground" entails.
Back in the Tour Room, we had the chance to try our hand at grinding oat groats. I've never tasted such flavorful oats.
Hayden Flour Mills is currently experimenting with pasta making and extruded pasta using bronze dies, and we were graciously invited to help ourselves to bins of rotini. I also did a little shopping, buying farro berries, stone-ground cornmeal, and pasta, chickpea, and semolina flour.
As we learned on our tour, freshly milled flour is not only tastier and healthier but it's also important to be educated on the grain, where and how it is grown, milling technique and storage (we were encouraged to store flour in the freezer to preserve freshness). After visiting the mill, I'm an even bigger fan than I was before, and I left with a greater appreciation and knowledge of the passionate people behind Hayden Flour Mills. In addition to tours, this spring the Mill added classes in pizza, bread, and pasta-making, which quickly sold out. Stocking the pantry? You can find select Hayden Flour Mills products at Whole Foods and Sprouts, and their full line at the mill's online store.
To plan your own itinerary, download the Fresh Foodie Trail brochure here.