Sigdal milll

by admin on 27/04/2019

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Økologisk Buskerud recently arranged a visit to Økologisk spesialkorn in Sigdal in order to have a look at their flour mill. In fact, this was a very good way of complementing a visit to the same area almost 2 years before and documented here.

Being in late April, the farmers hadn’t even started seeding their fields, but the flour mill and the adjacent flour shop was open. Unfortunately, the flour mill wasn’t operating, but this was as expected since it’s used in autumn when the grain harvest has finished.

Obviously, bread has been a part of our diet for thousands of years and this article shows that people in the Middle East were making flour 14,000 years ago.

In addition, research has shown that life was incredibly hard and that women could spend 5 hours grinding grain daily.

From then to now, turning grain into flour has changed from a strenuous task to something done by machines driven by wind or water, but nowadays mostly by electricity and which very few people know anything about.

The company, Økologisk spesialkorn, have their own flour mill and it’s the first company in Norway, which is approved for producing, storing and selling seeds of more or less rare types of grain like emmer, einkorn, spelt, Nordic rye called svedjerug, Dala wheat (a type of wheat which has been selected by farmers for generations), a Norwegian barley called Domen and naked barley (that is, barley without hull) called Pirona.

Our guides were Anders Næss, organic farmer and former managing director of Økologisk spesialkorn, and the farmer Guttorm Tovsrud on whose land the field trial was done.

The mill was originally built by local farmers in Sigdal as a cooperative and it received grain from local farmers for many years until it was closed down. However, Økologisk spesialkorn bought it, restored the building and bought a new flour mill some years ago.

As we were told by Terje Nesje at Holli mill, there is no education for millers in Norway and Anders went to the Danish company Aurion, which is using Austrian stone flour mills, in order to learn about milling. In fact, there is an active association for millers and those who are interested in milling in Denmark.

Having entered the mill, it was obviously a building which had been made for a specific purpose although it was quite difficult to understand what at a first sight. Everything was made of wood, stairs led upwards and downwards and some machines were standing in various places. First, Anders led us to the base of the building where the flour mill had been installed. A machine with a diameter of, say, one metre, and a height of, say, one and a half metre, was the flour mill, while just above it was a tube and an open box full of grain. When the flour mill is in operation, grain from a silo is fed through this tube into the mill.

The millstones were inside the flour mill and they were not visible. As explained here: millstones come in pairs. The base or bedstone is stationary. Above the bedstone is the turning runner stone which actually does the grinding. The runner stone spins above the stationary bedstone creating the “scissoring” or grinding action of the stones. A runner stone is generally slightly concave, while the bedstone is slightly convex. This helps to channel the ground flour to the outer edges of the stones where it can be gathered up.

An animation of how scissoring works and a glossary of mill terms are included. A typical millstone is shown below.

By Stevegray at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=728078

Just like at Holli mill, the miller at this mill also has to use hearing and sense of smell in order to get the flour as wanted. It is possible for the miller to get samples of flour during milling such that it can be felt, touched and even tasted. Lastly, the miller can monitor the current consumption of the mill. Then, by using all 5 senses, the miller can vary the distance between the millstones by means of a handle on the mill. In this way, the miller can ensure that the temperature is less than 40°C avoiding excess heat during milling.

At the base of the flour mill there was an electric motor and a tube through which the motor would force the flour upwards to the top of the mill. From there, it would fall down into a sieve with various openings such that the miller could vary the size of the particles and get a specific flour.

Anders told us that their customers didn’t like their flour in the beginning, because it was beige due to bran, and not white as it should be. The following picture shows a wheat kernel, but other types of grain look similar.

By Wheat-kernel_nutrition.svg: Jkwchuiderivative work: Jon C (talk) – Wheat-kernel_nutrition.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12889006

This flour mill is not heated, leading to fewer problems with animals and insects trying to eat or contaminate the flour, which is a real problem in warmer countries. The only room, which is heated, is the packing room where a certain amount of flour is let into paper bags, which are put into cardboard boxes, ready to be shipped to customers.

Last but not least, this company doesn’t mix grain in any way such that there is full traceability from each farmer, field and time of harvest.

Having finished our visit in the mill, we were invited to eat freshly made pizza. Økologisk spesialkorn has a mobile, wood-fired oven and the present managing director, Rune Menninen, was busy tending the oven and folding pieces of dough, which consisted of a mixture of emmer and spelt and had been made the day before. He flattened pieces of dough manually, put on tomato sauce, pepperoni and cheese and put it in the oven. A few minutes later, he took it out again, having made a freshly made pizza. Since there were so many visitors, about 25 in all, he had a lot to do.

I also met Guttom Tovsrud, a farmer who was owning and running the field trial described in Field trial of growing cereals.

He had been doing organic farming for 15 years, and when he started, the farmers doing conventional farming thought he would get ever smaller harvests and more weeds. Instead, it was the opposite which happened, mainly because organic matter, in particular carbon, in their fields is decreasing according to Anders Næss.

Mr Tovsrud also told us that after having grown spelt 4-5 years on the same field he practised crop rotation, replacing the spelt with clover, which will add nitrogen to the soil, an essential nutrient for plants.

During 2018 when there was a drought in Norway, he lost very little of his spelt harvest. He attributed this to the the deep roots of the spelt and the porous structure of the soil due to an abundant micro-life in the soil. In addition, spelt has a long stem, placing it farther above ground and making it more difficult for parasites to reach the grains. Interestingly, this is the same advice I got from a wine farmer in Italy. That is, he wanted to keep the canes of the grapevines at least 50 cm above ground in order to avoid parasites from the ground.

Spelt has a hard hull, which has to be removed before milling. The hard hull also leads to that spelt has to be dried slowly, else only the hull will dry, while the endosperm remains humid.

It was a great pleasure to visit somebody who work so hard to make high quality products for consumers.

 

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Tenuta di Marsiliana farm

by admin on 28/09/2018

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This farm extends from the hill on which a castle with the same name dominates the entire valley surrounded by the elevation where the historic house of the Corsini family is located and the natural park of Maremma. It’s fair to say that this hill has served as a place for controlling the surrounding countryside and, in particular, the river Albegna where people had to cross a ford in order to pass this area.

Anyway, the Etruscans controlled this area and they may have founded a town called Caletra, which is now called Marsilia. After the Romans had defeated the Etruscans, it was called Agro Caletrano. During the early Middle ages, a monastery was built on the hill. There, pilgrims could rest on their way to Rome, the Eternal City.

A castle was built on the top of the hill in the 12th century being controlled by various powers until it was used as a military fortification during the Spanish domination from 1559 to 1713. Next, the Corsini family arrived at Marsiliana in 1760 and they constructed a fortified farm below the castle in the early 1800s. A contract from 1868 between the bank Monte dei Paschi and the Corsini family states that the property of all the surrounding terrain is transferred to the Corsini family. The local farmers worked as sharecroppers for the Corsini family until 1950 when there was a Land Reform act. Then, a large part of the land was expropriated by the state in order to give 8 to 20 hectares and a house to each farmer family.

A large part of the land covered by marshes was reclaimed by means of drainage, canals and pumps. In this way, malaria, which had been a major cause of death among the sharecroppers, disappeared completely. Thus, the Land Reform act turned the sharecroppers into farmers with their own houses and their own land. Before, they had always worked as sharecroppers, getting back only a small part of what they had cultivated. Instead, the Tenuta di Marsiliana farm have turned to raising wild boar for hunting, cultivating grapevines and renting out houses, which have been converted into apartments, to tourists.

The area of the vineyards amounts to 26 hectares. The grapevines, consisting of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, were planted between 1988 and 2006 and all of them are productive. The best grapes are collected manually, while the rest is collected by means of machines.

The man responsible for wine production kindly showed us the vineyards, at the same time as he explained various aspects of viticulture in a very clear way. For instance, the orientation of a vineyard should always be located east-west and never north-south in order to let the grapes receive as much sunlight as possible.

Regarding cultivating the grapevines, it is done according to a French method where the canes of the grapevines are forced to grow 50 cm above the ground.

However, this method is adapted to the climatic characteristics of French vineyards where strong winds exert strong forces on the grapevines. By keeping the grapes closer to the ground, the force of the wind will be lower. Instead, he would prefer to let the branches grow higher above the soil in order to limit various types of funghi to reach the leaves and the grapes. This area is surrounded by hills, which limit the speed of the winds reaching the vineyards. Besides, by growing the branches higher above the soil, it would be easier for workers to harvest the grapes.

He also told us about pruning whose objective is to let the grapevines produce more grapes with a high quality. This is done by creating a strong root system and trunk and remembering that grapes produce the most fruit on shoots growing off one-year-old canes.

Pruning is done in winter, which is called dry pruning and the second one is done in spring or early summer. This pruning is called green pruning.

In addition to pruning, leaf removal also has to be done and this consists of removing leaves around the grape clusters. The main purposes are the following:

  • Improve air circulation.
    Increase fungicide/insecticide spray penetration.
    Expose the fruit to more sunlight.
    Improve flavor compounds, color, and bud fertility.

Some leaves have to remain on the shoot in order to produce carbohydrates to support vine growth, fruit development and ripening, develop overwintering reserves and to allow vine shoot and bud winter hardiness. As this document shows, growing grapevines requires a lot of knowledge and experience.

Since roe deer and wild boar live in the forests surrounding the vineyards, all of them are fenced off.

On the way back to the wine production, we passed a vineyard which had been harvested by means of a machine. As my guide told me, several branches had wizened leaves because the machine isn’t able to be as careful as the workers.

The wine production takes place in a huge building having an area of 1760 m2. It was constructed in 1900 by the Corsini family who used it as a storeroom for grain until the Land Reform act was enacted in the 1950s. Inside, there were arcs made by bricks, while the floor was covered by stone tiles, all of it done manually. Nowadays an agricultural cooperative rents 250 m2 for producing wines.

Like always, this wine producer lets wine mature in large tanks, but the must and grape skins from one vineyard is kept strictly away from the must and grape skins from other vineyards.

Having added yeast to the must, the fermentation starts, turning sugars into alcohol. The fermentation creates carbon dioxide which rises to the top of the must, lifting the pomace to the surface at the same time. Since this process produces heat and the yeast can’t survive above 33-34°C, the temperature has to be limited. This is done by letting cold water flow in tubes located inside the container such that the cooling is done indirectly. In fact, a control loop maintains the temperature at 25°C because it’s best for the yeast.

Some days later, a filter is placed above a container and below the valve at the base of the tank containing the must. One end of a hose is connected to a container, while the other end is connected to a pump. The top of the tank is also opened through which a hose is fed, while the other end is connected to the pump. Next, a worker opens the valve and starts the pump. Wine will flow out of the tank, passing the filter, which will stop the pomace. Instead, the must will pass unhindered and be pumped up to the top of the tank. This process provides oxygen to the must, which aids the fermentation. In addition, the must is forced to pass the pomace, which gives various good characteristics like taste and colour to the must.

When the process of fermentation stops because all the sugars have been turned into alcohol, racking is done. That is, the wine is separated from the pomace by means of gravity and transferred to another tank. Instead, the pomace is crushed once more. The resulting wine may be mixed with the original wine in order to make a blend or it may used as table wine. In any case, an oenologist decides what’s to be done in each case.

The pomace will have to be transferred to a distillery for making grappa in order to avoid fraud using the pomace to produce wine by means of chemicals, according to Italian law.

This farm has a wide selection of wines as described here: The majority of the wines are DOC  or IGT.

Last but not least, there is an interesting ethnographic museum inside the castle: documents and various equipment used by people across the ages tell visitors about life and work in this place.

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