Tips For Freshly Milled Flour From Etto Chef Peter Pastan

Up your baking game with fresh flour

Peter Pastan's pants are covered in flour. So are his shirt and flip-flops. And not just any kind of flour.

"Freshly milled flour works differently than regular flour," says the co-owner of Washington, D.C, pizzeria Etto over the din of a stone mill. Every morning, Pastan mills about 60 pounds of grains in his freestanding, pine-encased mill, imported from Austria.

While others buy plain flour in bulk, Pastan uses his own freshly milled mix of hard red winter wheat and spelt flours to make Neapolitan-style pizza dough, sourdough loaves, pastries and breadcrumbs. And he's not the only one. Bakeries like The Mill and Beck's Bakery in California and Farm & Sparrow in North Carolina are reviving an older tradition of using freshly milled flour. At The Mill, Josey Baker (yes, that's his real name) uses a stone mill to grind whole grains for his loaves, including a "Working Man's Bread," made with whole wheat and rye flour, sprouted rye berries, sourdough culture and sea salt.

Is it time to join the fresh flour revolution? Maybe so. According to Pastan, it's all about the flavor. "There's a certain sweetness to freshly-milled wheat," he says, that sets it apart from the aged oxidized flour found in most stores. "It's more floral and aromatic."

To find the freshest stuff, Pastan suggests scouring farmers markets and placing advance orders with grain farmers. If that's not an option, try reaching out to a local organic association who can direct you toward a mill in your area.

Online ordering is another option. Operations like Bluebird Grain Farms and Hayden Flour Mills mill fresh flour to order. Community Grains, an Oakland-based organization that helps build local grain economies, sells its own flour through a retailer's website. Restaurants with in-house mills are sometimes happy to sell their flour to customers. For the freshest results, it's best to buy flour often and in small amounts.

If all else fails, Pastan recommends a homespun approach: "You can buy a counter-top stone mill to use at home," he says. That's his preferred method: Pastan mills only what he needs each day, storing the fresh flour in plastic bins at room temperature.

Milling flour every day is hard work, but Pastan says it's worth it. "It's a challenge. But it's also more natural—and more exciting."