Since humans discovered that the process of grinding, and the subsequent cooking (in water or fire), of cereals and grains could be converted into palatable and nutritious food, flours transformed into the basis of our diet and food culture: breads, porridge, biscuits and cakes.
But in recent years, as with so many other products in the opulent world, there has been concern for the nutrition and sensorial quality which could affect a basic product such as bread and its primary component, flour.
Andrés Bonilla found unexpected treasure when he returned to his home region of the Guadalhorce valley: “My wife and I decided to come back. I found myself unemployed and with the need to do something. I made bread at home, it started as just a hobby, then I discovered the mills in the area and the extraordinary quality of the flour that was produced. We also saw that there was already a community of home bakers on the internet, so there was a fantastic opportunity to provide a service to them.”
Today, El Amasadero (www.elamasadero.com), Bonilla's company, is a point of reference within the 'panarra' movement (home bakers), and sells high-quality local flours and accessories online, in addition to having an app for mobile phones, 'Porcentaje de Panadero', which helps to calculate the exact proportions of ingredients to obtain a perfect dough.
Three main suppliers
Three mills in Coín are his main suppliers, the Harinera San José, the Molino Eco-Coín and La Fuensanta, all descendants from when the currents of the tributary network of the Guadalhorce river was used to grind not only cereals, but olives for oil and even cork for the conservation of food when there were no fridges.
“The fact that 90 per cent of the flour that we sell is produced less than eight kilometres from us is very important to us,” says Bonilla, who lives in Alhaurín el Grande.
José Antonio Méndez, from La Fuensanta, who, like Bartolomé Méndez, from Molina Eco-Coín, comes from a family which has been millers since 1790, is pleased that the demand for his organic flours, both for bakeries and private individuals, has not stopped growing in recent years.
Today he sells to customers throughout Spain. “We have an old stone mill and factory, and only make flours without pesticides and ground without losing the wheatgerm,” he explains.
And what is wheatgerm? A grain of wheat is composed of three elements: the bran, which encases the grain and represents 14 per cent of the total weight; the germ or embryo, the reproductive part that germinates to create a new plant and accounts for three per cent of the weight of the grain; and the endosperm, where the nutrients necessary for germination are stored and which, with 83 per cent of the total weight, is the main component of flour (and the only one found in refined flours).
María Teresa, Bartolomé Méndez's wife, from the Molino Eco-Coín, explains that the process of using a grinding stone has two main advantages: “One is that it generates less heat, and therefore does not burn the grain, and the other is that the wheatgerm is not lost”. This translates into “a creamier colour and a richer and more intense flavour, as well as the added nutrients from the wheatgerm”.
Although preserving traditional milling methods, the artisan mills of Coín are constantly innovating, aiming for a greater diversity of grains while concentrating on ecological production, in which Rafael Bermúdez, from Harinera San José, was a pioneer.
Nowadays the old varieties of wheat (spelt) are in great demand, as well as cereals and grains without gluten, such as buckwheat, quinoa, soy, chickpea and chestnut. However, flour suitable for coeliacs is not available because the milling process always leaves traces of gluten.
But one of the most interesting effects that the 'panarra' movement and the quality commercial bakeries is having, is the recovery of local crops.
“People demand quality and more variety,” explains Maria Teresa. “We even have clients from away who come to Coín to visit the mill to see how we work. This demand has led us to investigate the environment and reach agreements with farmers in the province to recover old crops such as the 'scaña' (spelt), which we are cultivating in Ronda.
Added to that, we try to introduce innovating flavours such as flour with spinach that we have launched recently,” she adds. A return to the old ways that has taken local milling to unexpected heights.