There’s a baking frenzy happening in kitchens all over the country. Across social media, you’ll find sourdough, banana bread and even Disney’s iconic chocolate chips are just a few projects seemingly on everyone’s things to do list this weekend.
But there’s one problem: it’s nearly impossible to find flour. Along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, for weeks it’s been a find-a-needle-in-the-haystack level challenge for New Yorkers to source the essential baking ingredient. We’ve seen random bags of Gold Medal all-purpose flour at the corner bodega (who knows how long it’s been sitting there), but it turns out the best sources are often local and smaller producers (many in upstate New York). Lately, some of these purveyors have shifted from focusing on supplying restaurants and bakeries to delivering to our doorsteps. Finally, we can join that baking club led by Christina Tosi or stream another master class by pastry wizard Dominique Ansel.
Located in the village of Penn Yan, New York, in the Finger Lakes region, The Birkett Mills has been in the milling business since 1797. Online, two popular options include the buckwheat flour ($5.70 per two-pound bag) and soft red wheat ($4.05 to $5.95 per five-pound bag). The virtual sales have been a hit so far, according to Kyle Gifford, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing, who says, “We’ve seen more online sales in the last three weeks compared to the last three years.”
This one stop shop in Queens focuses on supplying retailers and commercial bakers, but they’ve started delivery precious flour and almost anything you’d need to recreate those hypnotizing, swirling cinnamon buns everyone has been eating or that cake project you never had time for in the past.
If it’s good enough for Gramercy Tavern, it’s good enough for us. The iconic restaurant’s pastry chef Miro Uskokovic notes that he sources various flours, oats and other grains from this small regional grist mill in Skowhegan, Maine. “People can't find flour in their grocery stores, but they also don't want to,” says Amber Lambke, Maine Grains’ co-founder and president, noting how some customers wish to avoid grocery stores at the moment. The business typically averaged about a dozen orders per week but she adds that these days they’re filling upwards of 180 orders daily. According to Lambke: “We’re feeling very fortunate these days but also strained as we weather these weird times.”
River Valley’s focus on stone-milling locally-grown grains brings us back to what we imagine colonial times were like when farmers were at the forefront of food production. Sustainability is important to this northeast grainshed no matter the type of flour that’s being sold.
For years, Don Lewis’s Wild Hive Farm was a fixture at the Union Square greenmarket and it’s one reason so many chefs and restaurateurs rely on him to supply their grains. Most of his business has been focused on wholesale but there’s been a marked uptick in direct-to-consumer sales, which does not surprise Lewis. “In the ashes of all of this, the consumers are going to come out focusing on the quality and regionality of the foods they eat,” he says.
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