Flathead Valley Community College agriculture and culinary arts students are collaborating to solve a density problem.
The problem: The flavor and texture of bread, pastries and pasta made with 100 percent whole-wheat flour don’t measure up to the light, flaky goodness of their white-flour counterparts.
The solution: Develop varieties of wheat that grow well in Northwest Montana and when milled into whole-grain flour, produce a loaf of French bread or a bowl of spaghetti noodles that are nutritious and delicious.
FVCC agriculture students, under the direction of Dr. Heather Estrada, are tackling the first part of the solution. They are experimenting with cross-breeding and growing different varieties of wheat on the FVCC Campus Farm. No genetic modification occurs, nor are any chemical fertilizers or pesticides used in the process. It takes about 10 years to develop a new variety of wheat, according to Dr. Estrada. In the meantime, FVCC students are cleaning and testing grain samples at the lab at the Montana State University Experimental Station in Creston.
“We are cross-breeding plants the same way our ancestors did for thousands of years,” Dr. Estrada said. “We cross something, we look for the agronomic and end-use traits that we like, we select plants that have those traits, and we continue their lineage.”
Once the wheat is harvested and cleaned, students mill it into freshly-ground flour for use in FVCC’s Culinary Arts program. The milling takes place on the Campus Farm with a 26-inch stone mill that was built in Vermont by artisan baker Andrew Heyn, who began manufacturing mills in response to a growing number of North American bakers who, like Heyn, wanted access to locally-grown, freshly-milled whole-grain flours.
Weighing 1,200 pounds, FVCC’s stone mill is made from natural pink Salisbury granite that was quarried and cut in North Carolina. The college was able to purchase the mill thanks to a Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant and a gift from the FVCC Foundation.
Tackling the second part of the solution… turning the flour into whole-grain products that even a finicky child would enjoy… is primarily up to the FVCC culinary arts students, although the agriculture students also get to do some test baking.
A few hundred yards from where the wheat is grown and harvested, students enrolled in “Introduction to Baking & Pastry” and “Fundamentals of Cooking” create dinner rolls, bread, pie crusts, pasta and other goodies in their quest to perfect the art of baking nutritional, flavorful and light whole-grain products. Patrons of the culinary student-run restaurant and college dinner events get to sample the goods, bringing the project full circle, from seed to loaf.
For more information about Flathead Valley Community College’s Agriculture program, visit www.fvcc.edu/agriculture. For more information about FVCC’s Culinary Arts program, visit www.fvcc.edu/culinary-arts.