How Flour is Made – a visit to a Mill in Italy
A few weeks ago, thanks to AIFB, Cook In Venice had the great opportunity to visit, together with another group of bloggers (La Cucina di Qb, Tutti Possono Cucinare, Chez Morandi, Sapori e Dissapori Food, FoodHolmes and Civico Numero Sei) the wonderful oasis of Vallevecchia and then the Mills of Molino Rachello.
We started by meeting with Gualtiero Gigante, agronomist for Molino Rachello, and Francesco Fagotto and Francesco Fracasso, from Veneto Agricoltura, which is the Regional Agency for the agricultural, forestry and agro-food sector.
They quickly explained what Vallevecchia is, why it was created and the mission behind this important project!
Vallevecchia, an oasis in the Veneto
This is one of the strongest examples of the efforts made by the Veneto Region to work for environmental recovery and redevelopment, even for agro-tourism purposes, of one of the environmental attractions more typical of the Venetian lagoon reality. The island is entirely the property of the Veneto Region.
Vallevecchia covers an area of 800 hectares of which 380 are cultivated. The rest is covered by woods (100 hectares), coastal pinewood, wetlands (70 hectares), phyto-depuration and natural areas and has a high biodiversity.
Numerous environmental situations are represented, including biotopes of sandy dune, sweet marsh and pine forest inserted within a context of cultivated areas. Its complex environmental mosaic determines a particular naturalistic richness.
The oasis of Vallevecchia is a strip of semi-marshy land, an island of peace and a refuge for numerous species of birds and swamp fauna; the “green lung” of Caorle, single corridor free from constrictions, suitable for birdlife.
Located 2 meters below sea level and reborn thanks to a massive land reclamation completed in 1968, the oasis offers incredible views and a unique atmosphere in the world.
The environmental rehabilitation project of Vallevecchia has among its aims the improvement of the agricultural landscape, the restoration of some peculiar environmental situations of the area and the protection of the same from the environmental impact caused by uncontrolled attendance. It is also an experimental project, where researchers can carry out new agriculture techniques that can then be applied nationwide, if proven positive and environmentally friendly.
Vallevecchia: where to get organic wheat for excellent flour
Here they grow wheat, corn and soy. Most of the organic produce goes to Molino Rachello, a local Mill Company, which we visited later in the day.
Until a few decades ago, this area was all countryside, then it has undergone first the reclamation of the original marsh environment, then the transformation to an extensive farm, to be finally subject to one of the most important environmental requalification interventions that led to the redevelopment of vast areas and forestation of over 120 hectares.
It seems that the inspiration to Hemingway to write “Across the river and among the trees”, came from Vallevecchia:
… from the green of the water and the yellow of the sand dunes …
Vallevecchia, which extends along the stretch of coast between Caorle and Bibione, has been recognized by the European Community as a Special Protection Area and Site of Community Importance.
This is a place characterized by the humid earth, poised between the lagoon and the Adriatic, the tranquillity of the sandy beach, the pinewood, the isolated wood huts, and the wild spirit of reeds and shrubs that grow disorderly, birds that choose this breath-taking landscape as rest area or dwelling, such as the grey wild geese.
Vallevecchia: birdwatching paradise
Strolling along its dirt paths, you will find turrets and lookout points from which, with a good pair of binoculars, you will be able to admire the evolution of curlews and egrets, ducks, geese and many near extinct birds.
A paradise for bird-watching lovers!
And bird watching is one of the main activities that can be done in Vallevecchia, but certainly not the only one.
In fact, its paths lend themselves well to Nordic walking outings (with some stretches also accessible to wheelchairs for the disabled) and a cycle path that makes it perfect for bike rides, not to mention that every year a rich program of walking or horse riding tours is organized.
The Environmental Museum of Vallevecchia is also worth a visit, in which the naturalistic, historical and productive peculiarities of this land are illustrated through plastics and explanatory panels, and there is even a typical casone.
Vallevecchia: the beach
Then there is the sea, which bathes a very long isolated beach. You can look out towards Caorle and see the inhabited nucleus with the unmistakable shape of the bell tower, or follow it in an easterly direction, up to the sandy tip overlooking the town of Lignano Pineta.
The best months to go are May, June and September.
After our visit to Vallevecchia, we took a drive to a mill, Molino Rachello, to see how the organic grains, which were grown in Vallevecchia, were later transformed into flour.
Molino Rachello: a bit of history
Molino Rachello is located near the River Sile, which is the longest resurgence river in Italy.
Its history goes back to 1910, when Andrea Rachello rented the Mill in Cendon di Silea. 10 years later, joined by his sons Carlo and Giovanni, Andrea Rachello bought the mill that he had been leasing until then.
After the 20s, only one of Andrea’s sons remained in the business, Giovanni, who was later joined by his sons Angelo and Alfonso in the running of the business and then by his grandsons Andrea and Giuseppe, who become the owners in 1952.
In 1959 Andrea and Giuseppe founded Fratelli Rachello di Andrea e Giuseppe Rachello s.n.c. moving the company and the mill facilities to Roncade, where they are located now.
In 1983, Andrea was joined by his sons Gabriele and Gianni. The brothers immediately decided to expand the facilities, creating laboratories for the research and production of new products and also for bread-making testing.
We were met by Sara Rachello and Gabriele Rachello.
After a delicious lunch of pizza and focaccia prepared with the various types of flours available from the mill, together with some locally produced wheat beer, we finally took a tour of the mill, starting from where the grains are delivered.
Molino Rachello: where flour is made
Molino Rachello is spread over an area of 10,000 square meters, counts 60 silos for storage and the mixing of grains and flour, producing over 200 tons of ground grain on a daily basis, with a 24 hours continuous cycle.
Forget about that romantic picture of a water or windmill, mills today are totally automated mechanized facilities!
But let’s start from the beginning!
How is flour made?
We are used to talk about flour, to buy it on the supermarket shelves and to use it in the kitchen more or less every day, but many of us do not know how it is produced, beyond the recurrent image, used in the marketing world, of a paddle mill that turns and grinds the grain.
Well, first of all flour is obtained from the grinding of cereals or other products, like almonds or chestnuts, subjected to milling to obtain powders with variable granulometry.
Soft wheat flours are the most widely used in the world in the production of bakery products and pasta, but in Italy there is also a good production of durum wheat flour, very widespread in the South and in the Islands for the typical climatic characteristics.
Other cereals are grown and harvested to be ground, but in a decidedly smaller form than soft and hard wheat.
Once the wheat is harvested and threshed in the fields, there is a storage phase followed by another one of wheat rest.
Modern mills, like this one of Molino Rachello, are equipped with special silos that allows to store the wheat safely and at controlled temperatures, avoiding contamination of fungi and bacteria: the wheat is constantly ventilated and cleaned by air jets.
The milling of wheat is an exclusively physical operation that involves three basic steps: cleaning, conditioning and grinding.
The cleaning is used to remove foreign substances of mineral and vegetable nature (grains of other cereals, straw, etc.).
The conditioning consists in wetting the wheat so that the water facilitates the breaking of the grain and the detachment of the external tegumental parts from the internal starchy ones.
The next phase is the milling: in modern mills the cleaned and selected grains are ground thanks to a mechanism of cylinders that breaks the grain.
With the movement of an oscillating sieve, that retains the outer parts, represented by the bran, the first coarse flour is obtained: this initial selection process is the principle of what is called sifting.
The procedure is repeated later, with the use of increasingly closer distance cylinders and finer mesh sieves.
Only after a careful selection of the grains, followed by strict controls on quality and sanitary safety features, you can proceed with the mixing of the wheat and finally the actual grinding phase to obtain flours of different technological quality and suitable for different uses.
Different types of flour
From the grinding we finally get different types of flour, divided according to the legislation on flour in force in Italy, which classifies the types of soft wheat flour based on the degree of sifting or refining, then on the percentage of ash in the various obtained products.
Whole meal flour is the only product not classifiable by the degree of sifting as this process does not occur during its production: it derives from the direct grinding of the grain and also contains the bran present in the outer part of the grain, in addition to the inner part with the wheat germ rich in nutritive elements.
The other flours obtained are classified with a numerical number, which indicates the degree of sifting:
Type 2 and type 1 are semi-whole meal flours that contain lower percentages of bran and therefore ash, which decrease progressively on the basis of the degree of sifting.
The type 0 and type 00 flours are very refined and recognizable products with a candid white color, characteristic given by the very low quantity of ash and due to the high degree of sifting.
Contrary to what one thinks, the difference between a type 0 and a 00 flour is really ridiculous: the amount of ash present is very little different between the two.
Once ground, the flours are stored to allow them to be properly matured before being put on the market.
The flour of Molino Rachello
Molino Rachello has chosen to follow strict guidelines:
respecting the environment, using mainly sustainable projects, selecting agricultural areas in natural or protected areas (like the Rachello Oasis), favoring farmers who choose organic and non-GMO cultivation and engaging particularly with growers in our territories, together with whom we network to care the welfare of each of our clients.
After the visit to the mill we got to sit down and have a round table talk with Gabriele e Sara Rachello as well as Lorenzo Furlan, Director of the Agricultural Research Sector for Veneto Agricoltura.
It was a very interesting discussion and exchange of opinions about the importance of sustainable agriculture, the real meaning of organic farming and how to educate people to choose carefully when buying a product, not based on price but on the quality.
Of course at the end of the blog tour, we got to get our hand on some exceptionally good organic flour!
With my stash of Spelled flour I prepared a Sponge cake, made with olive oil, vanilla essence, cinnamon, cane sugar and eggs!