By Mary Rosewood
When you see a bag of Conservation Grains flour in the store, you’ll notice a recent date handwritten on the label. This indicates the day the flour was milled in Choteau, Montana. If you buy flour at the store, it doesn’t get any fresher than that.
“Fresh flour is much livelier than flour that’s been sitting on the shelf for six months or a year or who knows,” said Judy Cornell, who owns the company. “Most people don’t have an opportunity to even try freshly milled flour.”
The company’s website explains: “Conservation Grains mills only fresh 100% whole grain, stone-ground flours because that’s what’s best for your health and for really great flavor.”
I can say from personal experience that Conservation Grains flour really does make great-tasting pizza, pancakes, and cobblers. According to testimonials on the website, because the flour is so fresh, it ferments well, making it an outstanding choice for sourdough bread.
Judy explained why: “The yeast, especially in sourdough bread, is very responsive in its fermentation. It literally is alive and growing. All of our flours are whole grain, and that whole grain flour has all the nutrients and minerals that are in the grain and the yeast really gobbles it up.”
Although none of the flours are comparable to the all-purpose variety that’s widely available, Judy said that someone who wants to try a general purpose flour might enjoy her Wheatsome blend of grains.
“It has a ton of flavor, and it’s very forgiving and versatile and easy to work with,” Judy said.
The Last Best Pancake Flour makes tasty pancakes, of course (the recipe is on the back of the bag), but you can also use it to make a quick 10-minute cobbler. The easy recipe for that — and other treats — is on the website.
Judy and her husband, Jeff, didn’t set out to run a small-batch mill. They were bird hunters looking for property where they could train dogs. In 2008, they found land that was being farmed, and with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service began turning the less-productive areas into wildlife habitat.
While her husband worked full-time, Judy dealt with the farm and learned about water rights and soil health. She realized that it was important as a small farmer to find a way to take care of the farmland as well as deal with the vagaries of the marketplace.
While selling currants to a distillery in Helena, Judy noticed their stockpile of grain and offered to sell her own. But when she went to clean her 30,000 pounds of grain for the sale, she learned that everything in the area is built for large-scale producers. She finally got the grain cleaned, but saw the need for production on a smaller scale.
She gave her son a hand mill to grind grain for his own weekend baking, although he returned it after finding it too tedious to work with. But the idea of milling her own flour took hold, and Judy began testing mills with different grains while her husband learned to bake.
She worked her way up to grinding 25 pounds at a time and now can do 1,000 pounds, bagging the flour into 25-pound bags, not the 50-pound industry standard, “because I thought, this is a woman-owned business. I’m going for 25 pounds. I don’t care what anybody else does.”
You can be sure Conservation Grains flour is fresh, but if you want fresher still, you can place a special order for whole grain kernels to grind yourself.
In Livingston, find Conservation Grains flour at FoodWorks. Learn more about the varieties of flour available at conservationgrains.com, where you can order online and also see where commercial bakers are using the flour, such as Blackbird Kitchen and Wild Crumb Bakery in Bozeman. Judy said 80 to 90 percent of the flour she sells is milled to order.
For lovely photos and updates, go to #conservationgrains on Instagram or to Facebook at conservationgrains.montana.