The Art of Milling (As Much as I Know)

By Karl Kupers on December 18, 2010

First and foremost let it be known that I am not a miller but I have become fascinated about the process. I wanted to write about the great work Shepherd’s Grain gets done at the ADM mill in Spokane. The lead millers name is Sean Costello who has taught me and all our producers a lot about the “art of milling”. We have had tours of the mill where Sean described the many steps involved from the point of when the wheat drops in the pit from the truck to when it leaves the mill door as a bag of flour.

In addition to mill tours whenever I am around the mill offices and Sean is seen going down the hall I always hail him down and begin my query to learn more about milling. I am always interested in how the Shepherd’s Grain wheat is performing for him and within that continue to learn about milling.

This year out in the field we had some environmental events create a very uneven protein level across the entire field. Protein is affected by certain environmental conditions like heat stress which can help create a higher protein in the wheat or rain which can create lower proteins. We had both those events happen across the region and that resulted in very uneven proteins within a field. We take great pains to try and analyze the protein content of the new crop as it is being harvested and stored so we can try and make a blend of proteins to give an extra bit of stability in the baking process. You probably have read or heard me say “Baking quality comes from protein quality, not just the quantity of protein in each batch of flour”. So even though we continue to use the same varieties of wheat to create a consistent protein quality, we strive to stabilize the protein content as well. To keep it short, the proteins within a storage bin of wheat this year are quite variable and can even vary within the truckload moving into the mill. We are putting tremendous stress on the miller to not only manage the varied proteins coming into the mill but other factors as well such as shriveled wheat, fat kernels, etc . This is when Sean comes to the rescue.

The ADM mill in Spokane is one of only a few across the US that truly allows the “art of milling” to be expressed. Many mills, and for good economic reasons, have gone to a more automated style. As Sean said to me today, the machines can’t think when changes need to be made. The mill in Spokane is truly a hand’s on mill. Touching the flour for fineness, temperature, ash content and many more telling tales of quality flour are the norm each and every hour of a mill run. Tweaking the machine settings is an art form within this mill because that is what it takes, and fortunately not just for Shepherd’s Grain wheat but, for all wheat this year. It seems no matter the region, this year’s wheat has much more variance within each mill run.

We are constantly reminded what good fortune it is to have begun our project with ADM in Spokane. The willingness to accept our vision in the beginning, the growth of understanding with the operations personnel, the relationship between the millers and the producers of Shepherd’s Grain, and the growing partnership of putting a quality product into the marketplace are all part of the success story we enjoy today. Sean is but one of the many who have embraced our necessary tweaks of the natural flow within the mill and take great pride in the finished product, Shepherd’s Grain fine line of flours. ADM Spokane mill takes great pride in showcasing the wonderful people skills who have that “Art of Milling”.