Bags of Gaston's fresh-milled flour

Flour Power

Gaston’s Bakery is the first in Idaho to mill its own flour

Lex Nelson

In the vast space behind the neat, old-world pastry and bread, shop at Gaston’s Bakery lies a mad scientist’s laboratory of baking. Staff dart back and forth, some twisting bits of dough into breadsticks, others carefully rolling croissants, stacking boxes of packaged pastries or leavering baguettes into towering stone deck ovens. But despite the hustle and bustle, it’s the machine sitting quietly in a corner that’s perhaps the most exciting thing in the bakery: a cherry-red electric mill, which Gaston’s owner, French baker Mathieu Choux, started using just two months ago to make his own flour from Idaho wheat.

Flour mill at Gaston's Bakery in Boise Idaho

The setup is impressive—a platform holds a massive black silo, which feeds kernels of wheat into the mill below through steel pipes, where it’s pulverized into flour. The flour is then forced upward into a bright yellow “cyclone,” which removes air from the mix before it falls into the sifter. There, the largest particles are filtered out, leaving the flour ready for baking.

Rather than being ground many times, as is often done in conventional mills, the flour at Gaston’s is milled in one pass. Plus, Choux uses intact, Idaho-grown wheat kernels, so his flour packs a healthy punch.

“We’re sifting out some of the grind but not all of it,” Choux explained. “So the flour will have the nutrition and minerals, 95 percent of what would be in whole wheat flour. But it’s going to behave more like a white flour because of the particle size.”

The part of the mill that grinds the wheat kernels into flour is surprisingly small, but, as Choux said, “it’s mighty,” with the capacity to mill 1,200 pounds of wheat per hour. And because the flour is milled twice a week and used up immediately, there are no artificial additives or preservatives mixed in. This makes baking bread a bit trickier—the home-milled flour behaves differently from conventional baker’s flour, requiring dozens of test batches to recreate established recipes—but for Choux, it’s worth it.

“We’re working with a product that’s a lot cleaner: we know what’s in our bread, I know it’s wheat that I bought, that we milled it and nobody added anything to it,” he said. “It’s great for the quality, [and] it’s great for the taste.”

Mathieu Choux of Gaston's Bakery in Boise Idaho

Right now, Choux is using rye wheat, hard red spring wheat, and soft white wheat, all sourced from Thresher Artisan Wheat in Pocatello. But he’s dreaming even closer to home, and said he hopes to buy from small, “very local” organic farmers by next harvest season, even though he’ll need to buy a wheat cleaning machine and larger storage silos to do it. He’s also planning to experiment with different varieties of wheat, and said that soon, nearly all of Gaston’s products will be made with flour milled in-house.

Though it’s still early in the transition process, those looking to try the new flour today can buy a bag, or snag a loaf of Choux’s Idaho wheat bread, from the bakery at  3651 W. Overland Rd.

photo credit: Lex Nelson