Bertie Matthews preparing for the wheat harvest
Sitting in my office at the mill, I look out over the river Evenload, and beyond the Shipton Church tower, towards the fields of wheat growing on the Cotswold hills. The wheat harvest is approaching.
The sun has been shining for two weeks now. These hills have never looked better. But I wonder, does all of this actually mean that the wheat will be good quality? If yes, that means a great flour and a perfect Cotswold Farmhouse loaf!
Most of the time, believe it or not, I’m not gazing out of the window, but rushed off my feet with the many activities required to ensure the smooth running of a flour milling business. With our business, it all starts with a careful selection of the right grain.
Realising I could do with a walk, I take the short journey up the Wychwood Hill and look at the local wheat growth. Not long now before harvest.
I get to the top of the hill and turn around to what has been my favourite view since I was a young boy. I look out at the expansive fields of wheat, the rolling Cotswolds hills with my old family home in the background, and the mill that has been in our family for over 106 years. I bend down, take a sample of the end of the plant, called the spike.
I try and understand if this year will be a good harvest and produce the high-quality wheat we need.
It’s an anxious time when the wheat first arrives here. The wheat can’t be unloaded until we know it is the right quality for milling into Matthews Cotswold Flour, as we only make premium flour which means only using the best quality grains.
Grain needs to be good enough quality for it to be “milling wheat” that will then make premium flour. It comes from the protein quality, protein quantity, mineral content (which is labelled ‘ash’ but is, in fact, the trace minerals; the higher the ash count, the more minerals are present in the flour), moisture and enzymatic activity.
What I can’t do yet is get a feel for this just by holding the grain in my hand.
I realise as I look at the wheat and the view that I still have a long way to go before I actually know what I am looking at…………..
Probably best to call someone who knows, so standing on the hill baking in the July sun, I call the expert on milling wheat.
He’s the one who can tell from the look and feel in his hands if a grain will make good milling wheat. He says the grain needs to look shiny and firm, not weathered or dull, to ‘have a good appearance’. He explains that the sun will be good for the protein, which will be great for the farmhouse loaf, but yields could struggle. We could do with some rain soon.
The expert I’m talking about is my father, Paul Matthews. Still in the game and teaching the new generation the tricks past down from six generations of Matthews.
I thank my father and walk back down the hill towards the mill, I can’t mill about all day. I need to be in the test bakery to trial the Cotswold Pizza Dough, that and the sample won’t eat itself.