Shepherd’s Grain works closely with public and private wheat breeders, along with seed industry experts, to identify up and coming wheat varieties to be released for agricultural production. Wheat breeders focus on a number of qualities that are desired by farmers, millers, and bakers when they select certain lines of wheat seed to be released. Not all varieties of wheat available to growers perform well for bakers. Shepherd’s Grain has a short list of varieties that we accept, and those varieties must meet our high standard for baking quality.
After we identify wheat varieties that are up and coming in the seed marketplace, we monitor what the Pacific Northwest Wheat Quality Council has to say about those varieties. “The Pacific Northwest Wheat Quality Council is a not-for-profit organization comprised of wheat breeders, cereal chemists, and producers, marketers, inspectors, processors and users of wheat. Through its Technical Committee of volunteer collaborators, the Council aims to solicit and evaluate advanced-generation wheat breeding lines, thereby providing direct feed-back as to the merits of individual breeding lines and more general information as to the technical requirements of wheat end-users. In this way, longer-term breeding objectives are defined.” You can read more about the Council here.
We take the data and opinions from the PNW Wheat Quality Council’s work, and then perform our own bake tests on varieties that have been recognized with high end-use quality. Our bake test criteria are based upon a pre-fermented simple pan loaf, and we rate each variety on a number of factors, including: absorption, mixing time, dough strength, dough development, crumb color, crumb structure, smell, loaf size, crust color, and taste. We only accept wheat varieties from our farmers that excel in the bake test criteria.
Our bake tests are aimed at selecting varieties that perform well for artisan bread bakers. However, our flour is used in a number of applications, from pastries to bagels. We do further testing to ensure that our varieties are well suited to a number of applications.
At harvest time we gather 5 lb. samples of wheat from each of our growers to perform an analytical bake test to understand the quality attributes of each lot of wheat from each grower. This testing provides us with specific data from each farmer, including: wheat test weight, wheat thousand kernel weight, wheat moisture, wheat protein, bake absorption, mix time, loaf volume, crumb grain, crumb texture, crumb color, dough condition, Farinograph data including absorption-peak-stability-mixing tolerance, flour moisture, flour ash, flour protein, falling number, pH, and starch damage.
Because our growers produce varieties of wheat that have already met high baking quality standards, and because they are able to identity-preserve that wheat, and because we know precisely how their wheat performs when turned into flour and baked, we are truly able to micro-manage the wheat to produce the most consistent and highest quality flour.