It's a Grind
July 30th, 2011 - By Lari Robling
Returning to old ways connects us to history. At Castle Valley Mill in Doylestown, PA, tradition also produces local stone ground products that are good for us.
I wasn't sure what I would find when I trekked up to Ottsville, Pa to Canal House Cooking's Smallholding Festival. But, as I weaved in and around the displays of beekeeping, composting, and building your own outdoor pizza oven, I met Mark Fischer. He's the owner of Castle Valley Mill in Doylestown, a post and beam mill that dates back to 1730. Fischer explains how he came to be producing whole grain flours, meals and mixes on stones that are about 200-years-old. "My grandfather was a miller in Erlbach, Germany and he came here about 1920. His passion was always mills and he bought Castle Valley Mill back in 1947 and he really saved the whole building and all the structures from falling into a creek." Fischer adds, "He never got the mill running again. What he did do is collect lots of different milling machines so I have my pick of a variety of very, very clever and interesting milling machines. I've been figuring out what they do, restoring them and putting them back to work—and they work great!"
OK, that sounds like an interesting history lesson, but what makes his flour different from what's available in a typical supermarket? "There are two things we do that keeps all the nutrition in the food. One is that we are using the whole grain so that when we grind it we are grinding the outside bran along with the inside seed part called the germ and the endosperm which is the inside chalky part. So we are keeping the whole grain together in one piece and all the vitamins and nutrition associated with it. He continues, "The other thing we are doing is stone grinding it. When you grind commercially you do roller milling which is a very hot process it heats it up and it literally cooks out all the vitamins. So," he notes, "all flour has to say enriched or fortified so you they have to squirt synthetic vitamins back in to give it nutritional value. When you grind it on stones it's a very slow process and it keeps the product cool so all the vitamins and nutrition stay in."
Since we're advised to eat 3-5 servings of whole grains a day, this is good to know—but nutrition is one thing… I want to know about the taste! "My favorite thing," says Fischer, "is just cookin' up a batch of grits on the stove, a little butter, a little salt which is just a phenomenal breakfast food or you can chill it and cook it later on as polenta. Maybe put some cheese on it, but you just taste the corn and the real grain comes through."
Fischer says Castle Valley Mill products are about seven dollars for two pounds — which sounds pricey but two pounds makes a lot of grits. And, there's another benefit. "We do love the idea of supporting local farmers directly and so right now whatever Bucks County farmers can grow we are going to try," Fischer says enthusiastically. So, from smallholding to big ideas!