Dish

Flour Power
Flour might not yet have the boutique cachet of such snazzy products as Laura Chenel goat cheese or Indian-blood peaches -- for most people, it's still something you buy in a 5-pound sack at Safeway for 99 cents with a coupon -- but that will change if Keith Giusto of Giusto Specialty Foods has his way. At Giusto's South City plant, the company mills some of the best flour money can buy -- flour that finds its way into many of the Bay Area's better breads, and into commercial markets nationwide.

"We go the extra yard," Giusto says simply of the family-owned company's "artisan-style" flour-making. "We grind slow and cool, and we don't use any mixing agents, enrichments, or bleach to get the flour to behave a certain way."

For that, the miller relies instead on what Giusto calls "variety sourcing" -- the growing of particular types of wheat in particular areas of the West in order to produce consistently high "baking functionality," a combination of performance, flavor, behavior "on the bench," and oven spring.

"Most of our farmers are basically growing wheat only for us," Giusto says.
Unlike most large American flour producers, who test their products only for protein levels, Giusto runs more elaborate, European-style chemical analyses on his flours to make sure they will perform predictably and well.

"Very few large mills even have specs on their all-purpose flours," Giusto says. "They'll basically make them from anything they can get their hands on. But we grind like they used to, and we aren't trying to see how cheap and fast we can do it. No one else does what we do."

But even Giusto's scrupulous manufacturing techniques can't control one of the largest variables in the production of flour: the weather, which has been "messed up" in many growing regions over the past few years.

"There's been a lot of late plantings and early harvests because of the weather," Giusto says, "and because of that there hasn't been a lot of protein in the wheat we've been getting."

But Giusto (a recent James Beard Award-winning baker) isn't the type to be put off by such passing difficulties. In fact, he sounds a note of almost Alice Waters-like culinary evangelism when he says that "organics are the right thing to do," even if the company doesn't make much money doing them, and that "we want everyone baking and eating good food."

Fortunately the company makes enough money "to put food on the table," Giusto says, if not to make its owners wealthy. For a true food believer, that's a decent trade.

By Paul Reidinger
sfwdish@aol.com

 
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