Last August, a large wooden crate arrived at the sandwich shop Pane Bianco. In the crate -- bearing an Austrian return address -- was a 1600 pound stone mill and sifter: the sole piece of machinery that would revive Tempe's century and a half-old Hayden Flour Mills brand for which Mill Avenue was named.
Transparency is key for the owner of Hayden Flour Mills, Jeff Zimmerman, who is seeing the operation through from farm to flour by teaming up with local producers like Ramona Farms in the Gila River Community, planting heritage grain in existing farms, and milling the wheat pre-industrial era style alongside his daughter, Emma. Some flours they package themselves to sell at markets, but much is now the base for Chris Bianco's award-winning pizza doughs, breads and, most recently, the polenta and meatballs dish (for example) served at his new Italian Restaurant in Central Phoenix. The stone mill allows Zimmerman to grind their flour as fine as they please, and to fill specific orders for the chefs at Bianco who like the polenta so coarse it takes a couple extra hours to cook.
Many know of Hayden Flour Mills for the enormous white boarded-up factory off of Mill Avenue (for which it was named) in Downtown Tempe, but little know that Maricopa County once had a thriving wheat and milling industry over a century ago, right up until the days where Hayden Flour Mill's Arizona Rose brand flour badge of honor for food quality and a household staple (just ask your grandparents). Zimmerman, who grew up on wheat farms himself, decide to register the Hayden Flour Mill brand name, which hadn't been renewed since it last changed hands several years ago and the factory closed down in 1998.
"It lets me tell that story," says Zimmerman, with regards to Charles Hayden, whom he admires for originally using stone mills to grind local grain, and Arizona Rose. "A story that is so rich and which involves the local food movement."
Shortly after purchasing the brand name, Zimmerman met another man interested in sourcing local wheat and milling in-house for his restaurants -- Chris Bianco. Bianco himself had once been lent a hand for a space to start his pizzeria, so he extended a similar offer to Zimmerman and the team was born, and Zimmerman started planting and sourcing wheat and corn shortly after.
Of all places, it turns out that Italy owes a bit more than you'd think to Maricopa County and the farmers who produce Arizona-variety golden duram wheat. Seventy percent of what a farm like Ramona Farms grows is shipped directly to Italy, because today the wheat is still praised for its taste and partly for being grown by irrigation, where farmers can control the percent of water that ends up in the final grains, narrowly specified by the Italian buyers (if you're paying by the pound, water weight makes a difference). It's what gives their pasta that signature golden color, and "they consider it to be some of the best in the world," said Marco Bianco, a chef for the Chris Bianco-owned restaurants who heads the dough-making for their breads and pizzas.
Zimmerman is also successfully bringing heritage grains (varieties that existed before the genetic cross-breeding of the 1960, which led to shorter plants and heavy use of pesticide) back from the dead, in some cases from wheat collectors' freezers. Hayden's white Sonoran wheat is a heritage grain that the Pima indians planted heavily, and which Charles Hayden milled predominately in Hayden Flour Mills' heyday a century ago. And, as Emma puts it, "They were doing local before local was the thing to do."
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Under the Zimmermans, the Hayden Flour Mills' new project is growing quickly, selling a number of flours like the Arizona golden durum and semolina, all-purpose, and whole wheat to mixes for bread and pastries. Milling organic yellow corn, they sell packages of their fine and coarse polenta (or blended with wheat germ or buckwheat), as well as cornmeal and corn flour. Between May and June Zimmerman will be harvesting Hopi white, Navajo blue, and Floriani red corn (which will be milled for polenta). "This is one of the biggest opportunities people in Arizona have to experience really fresh grain," said Zimmerman.
To find original and adapted recipes, and to see what Hayden Flour Mills is currently up to, check out their blog.