Baking Business meets Jason Cotter from Tuerong Farm, Mornington Peninsula’s only grower and miller of heritage, ancient and modern cereal grains, who tells us about the importance of local grains and re-establishing genetic diversity in our global wheat crop.
You’re a key player in the revival of local grains. How did this come about?
Well, I wanted to bake my own bread… it grew from there. I’d also read Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate about the future of food and re-establishing local grain economies. I wanted to do something to vary the production of our and land and started growing wheat. The Mornington Peninsula has a long history of growing cereals so reviving local wheat production and milling has been very satisfying.
Why are heritage grains so important?
Simply put, the current genetic diversity in our global wheat crop is nothing on what it used to be prior to the Green Revolution and the wide introduction of semi-dwarf genetics into breeding lines. The current narrow diversity means we are open to threats to our food production. Diversity is the key to a lot of the challenges we face globally, including in grain. The revival of heritage grains re-establishes diversity. Heritage grains also offer broader selection of protein profiles that may exhibit different/highly desirable flavour characteristics, better ease of digestion, higher nutrition, even components that may lower cholesterol or offer higher antioxidant content for health. A recent CYMMIT (global cereals improvement body) study also revealed that along with better flavour, a vast selection of pre-WWII wheats had better bakery performance that modern wheats. Lastly, heritage wheats—and how they are defined is open to debate—often perform very well in low input sustainable farming systems with their taller plant architecture, and fit well with the older, slower milling and baking methods.
What are some of the most unique/popular grains you sell to bakers?
We currently grow and mill a few French red wheats, Australian hard wheats, khorasan (also known by the trade name Kamut) and a limited quantity of emmer. Red wheat is typically only grown in Australia for the stock feed market, but it is the key bread wheat in the Northern Hemisphere. The varieties we grow and mill are mostly grown in France, Spain and Italy and offer fuller flavour. Some reds are softer and need some finesse—which suits the product many artisan bakers are trying to achieve—while some reds perform as well as premium grade hard wheat, which is what they would be classed as overseas. We are also bulking up over 200 varieties of heritage wheat from the 19th and early 20th centuries. A few, like Rouge de Bordeaux from 1800s France, will be available from next year, while others are still a few years away. I’m particularly excited about Olands (a Swedish Landrace), Marquis (Canada, early 1900s), Bankuti (Hungary, 1935 and a renowned variety used in pastries in mid-20th century France), several Italian landrace durums grown all over the Mediterranean in the 1800s, our club wheat and shot wheat populations, and Hard Federation (1915, Australia), bred by William Farrer.
Which are some of the key bakeries you supply to?
All are Welcome in Northcote, Baker Bleu in North Caulfield, Northcote Bakeshop, Loafer in North Fitzroy, Q le Baker at Prahran Market and Miller’s Bread Kitchen in Dromana. We also supply some great restaurants in Melbourne and on the Mornington Peninsula.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a grower?
Less than ideal weather, such as too much rain, too little rain or rain at the wrong time. Getting together the right equipment, infrastructure and systems to support efficiency, whether in the paddock, mill or office, is also a challenge, as is achieving a quality product at an attractive price with low inputs.
Your Premium Stoneground Flour was awarded Best New Product in the Harvey Normal Produce Awards this year. What makes this product so special?
It’s fresh—we mill and deliver within a day. The aroma in the delivery wagon is amazing! It tastes great—a function of freshness, as well as the varieties we persist with and the temperate climate in which it is grown. It’s single origin and of known provenance—the consumer has a direct relationship with the grower, and it is grown an hour from Melbourne. There are very few grower-millers supplying local restaurants and bakeries—most flour comes to bakeries from a long, long way away, with all the food miles, gas emissions and impact that entails.
Any future plans for the farm you can tell us about?
An on-farm bakery, when we have time to focus on it and find the right baker—it’s been a challenge to meet that goal with other demands in the paddock or mill or with family, but we will get there one day. We will certainly have enough grain to do so in the next few years. Our big news is I have been awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship for 2020, and I will be investigating how best to sustainably restore flavour and nutrition in our grain production systems, particularly within a low input context.