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A production of the Southern Foodways Alliance, GRAVY tells new and complicated stories about the changing American South.

Jun 1, 2022

In “Fresh Flour to the People,” the third episode in her five-part series for Gravy, producer Irina Zhorov talks to bakers who have started demanding more from a key element in their craft—flour.  When we talk about ingredients, there’s a lot to consider: how fresh the fruit, how local the meat, how wild the fish. But for some reason, these are not questions most of us have been asking about flour—until more recently. 

In the South, much of the work to bring local, quality flours started in an inconspicuous little house and bakery in Marshall, North Carolina. People who have lived and worked at this property had a tendency to become obsessed with flour to the point that two of them actually transitioned away from baking, to milling flour. They’ve driven a small but mighty revolution among bakers in the South and beyond to take flour seriously, creating new markets and new flavors. 

A quick primer here. There are two basic kinds of wheat: hard wheat and soft wheat. Hard wheat has more protein, which gives the bread structure and allows it to rise and develop pretty air pockets. Hearty loaves require hard wheat, which did not grow in North Carolina. In fact, the whole South mostly grew soft wheats, which were better adapted to the local climate and land. Then local farmers and wheat breeders started experimenting with varieties of hard wheat, creating a local grain economy, a resurgence of small-scale mills, and breads packed with distinct and varied flavors. 

In this episode, Zhorov interviews Jennifer Lapidus, the first baker on the Marshall property, who began seeking a local hard wheat for the European-style, naturally leavened loaves she loves. Today, she runs Carolina Ground, a small grain mill in western North Carolina that has fostered a community of farmers, bakers, and millers. After Lapidus left, she rented the property to David Bauer, who opened Farm and Sparrow bakery and similarly became interested in milling; today, Farm and Sparrow is exclusively a mill. Bauer tells Zhorov of his path to working with local grains, and of the tension between innovation and tradition. Zhorov also speaks with David Marshall, a former wheat breeder for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who began experimenting with local varieties of hard wheat in the region. 

Finally, Camille Cogswell, who now owns the bakery with her partner, Drew DiTomo, shares how she is choosing the flour she will work with in the space, fostering connections to her new home, new foodways and purveyors, and new people along the way.