Sam Bilbro mills small batches of hard red wheat into sample bags for restaurants at Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg. (ALVIN JORNADA/ PD)

Sam Bilbro mills small batches of hard red wheat into sample bags for restaurants at Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg. (ALVIN JORNADA/ PD)

North Bay chefs and growers have long been at the forefront of the movement to eat local, championing the return to the table of heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef.

Nowadays, the farmers are starting to grow grains like rye, farro and wheat as well, providing chefs with whole-grain, freshly milled flours for their breads and pasta.

“Grains are the logical next step,” said Debra Walton of Canvas Ranch in Two Rock. “We’re really moving totally local, from vegetables and meat to grain and breads and beer.”

Cindy Daniel checks the consistency of the flour she is milling at Shed in Healdsburg on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. (ALVIN JORNADA/PD)

Cindy Daniel checks the consistency of the flour she is milling at Shed in Healdsburg on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. (ALVIN JORNADA/PD)

Walton fell in love with farro — an ancient grain believed to be one of the original strains of cultivated wheat — while attending Slow Food’s 2009 Terra Madre conference in Italy.

Back at home, Walton did research and discovered that the grain had been commonly grown in the Two Rock region back in the 1800s.

“Mostly they were growing it for livestock, but also for the San Francisco market,” she said. “As the railroads came West, cheaper grains from places like Nebraska made it so it didn’t make much sense to grow it here.”

A few years ago, Walton started growing farro, which she sells to local chefs like Austin Perkins of Nick’s Cove in Marshall and Bruce Riezenman of Park 121 Cafe in Sonoma.

“The fun thing is to put it into a minestrone soup, and that’s what I eat all winter,” Walton said. “We grow heirloom beans as well, so between the grain and the legumes, it makes a complete diet.”

Canvas Ranch also grows rye for bread baking and golden flax seed, which is high in nutrition and Omega-3 fatty acids.

“The golden flax sold out immediately,” she said. “People are really into that.”
Beyond the health benefits and the fresh flavor, farmers are attracted to the sheer beauty of the golden waves of grain.

“I have an emotional attachment to a field of grain,” said Peter Buckley, who owns Front Porch Farm in Healdsburg with his wife, Mimi. “But it’s also a very flexible crop. It can feed people or animals, and it keeps well.”

With the goal of creating a diversified farm, Buckley bought the 110-acre ranch three years ago, pulling out 55 acres of vineyards on the valley floor.

While researching wheat, he came across a website created by Bob Klein, owner of Oliveto restaurant in Oakland. Klein founded Community Grains in 2007 with the goal of creating a local grain economy and producing flours with flavor.

With Klein’s help, Buckley planted a couple of varieties of wheat for seed use only, including Senatore Cappelli, a heritage variety that was recently reintroduced.

In 2011, Front Porch Farm planted its first crop of wheat on 10 acres. Like other grain growers on the North Coast, Buckley enlisted the help of Doug Mosel of Ukiah to help harvest it.

“Bob had already started to revive wheat growing, so he had a harvester and a seed cleaner,” Buckley said.

Mosel is one of three farmers growing grain at the Nelson Family Vineyard near Ukiah as part of the Mendocino Grain Project. He also organized The North Coast Grain Growers, a support group that now boasts about 100 members, from growers to bakers.

“It’s really a remarkable story, when I think about what happened in just four years,” Mosel said. “I can only image what we might see in five years hence.”
Along with heritage varieties of wheat, Front Porch Farm also grows barley, rye, oats and flint corn for polenta.

The farm has a mill to grind its own grain, then delivers it to local chefs like Louis Maldonado of Spoonbar in Healdsburg and Dino Bugica of Diavolo in Geyserville.

Maldonado uses the Bolero flour to make Spoonbar’s signature sourdough bread and the Desert King for gnocchi and pasta. At Diavolo, Bugica uses the Cristallo flour to make pasta and is serving the polenta with his seafood stew.

“The fresh polenta is nice because it’s a little chunky, so it has texture,” Bugica said. “And it’s creamy and sweet.”

Front Porch Farm also sells its wheat and rye grain to Shed in Healdsburg, where owner Cindy Daniel grinds it on a stone mill from Austria.

“We’re milling them and using them in scones, bread and crackers,” Daniel said. “We also sell the freshly milled flour.”

Mateo Silverman of Chalk Hill Cookery in Windsor folds the Bolero flour into all of his baked goods. “It’s an heirloom variety, so it’s more digestible and nutritious,” he said. “And the flavor is great.”

The Canvas Ranch farro is available at the Fatted Calf in Napa’s Oxbow Market and at the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts on Saturday. Flour grown from Front Porch Farm grain is for sale at Shed in Healdsburg.

This recipe is from Austin Perkins, executive chef of Nick’s Cove in Marshall. Perkins uses the Navarro Vineyards Verjus and McEvoy Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Heirloom Tomato and Canvas Ranch Farro Salad

Makes 6 to 8 servings

For verjus vinaigrette:

1 shallot, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons verjus (or saba, if unavailable)
2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For salad:

1 pound farro
4 to 5 medium heirloom tomatoes, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup Bellwether San Andreas cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 pound fresh arugula leaves
1/8 cup chopped parsley

For vinaigrette: Combine the ingredients in a bowl and whisk thoroughly.

For salad: In a large pot, boil 8 cups water. Season generously with salt. When water is boiling, add the farro, reduce heat to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Cover and over very low heat cook for 20 more minutes, until just slightly al dente. Strain and allow to cool completely.
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and toss thoroughly.

This recipe is from Bruce Riezenman of Park Avenue Catering, who serves it at his Park 121 cafe at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma.

“This can be served as a room temperature luncheon or as a warm dinner,” Riezenman said. “It is delicious, rustic and very nutritious. The farro in this recipes makes enough for six, so you’re assured of extra for a quick lunch the next day. ”

You can substitute wild mushrooms for the crimini mushrooms and serve the dish family-style, if you like.

Coffee Rubbed Beef with Farro and Mushrooms

Makes 4 servings

1 pound beef tri-tip or New York Steak, trimmed, no fat
1 teaspoon ground coffee
Sea salt, medium coarse, to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper, 8 grinds
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled, cloves left whole
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Fresh-ground black pepper, 8 grinds
1/2 cup carrot, peeled and diced (about 1 medium carrot)
1/4 pound crimini mushrooms (about 10), halved and sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 cup semi-pearled farro
1 1/2 quarts salted water for cooking the farro
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
4 sprigs of fresh thyme or oregano
2 ounces aged white cheddar cheese, medium-sharp, diced 3/8 inch
1 quart arugula, cleaned

For the beef: If you prefer the beef to be served warm, start the farro first, then cook the beef while the farro is cooking. You can easily reheat the farro in the oven before serving.

Ask your butcher to trim the beef and remove all the outside fat, and to cut it into pieces, with the grain, that are 1-inch thick. At home, place the beef on a cutting board between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and pound with the smooth side of a mallet until it is 3/4-inch thick. This will help tenderize the meat.

Remove the top layer of plastic, and season the top side of the meat evenly with 1/2 teaspoon of ground coffee, 4 grinds of a peppermill and sea salt (medium coarse from a grinder). Turn the meat and do the same to the other side.
Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Place the canola oil in the pan, then place the seasoned beef into the cold sauté pan. Put a grill press on top of the beef and cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until the bottom of the beef is nicely seared. Remove the press, turn the beef, replace the press and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the beef is medium-rare, approximately 4-5 minutes more.

Remove the press and place the beef on a platter to rest.

For the farro: Place a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the whole garlic cloves. Cook slowly for 5-7 minutes, turning the garlic a few times during the cooking so they are golden brown on all sides.
Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 8 grinds of black pepper. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.

Add the carrots and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Then, add the mushrooms, thyme and oregano. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the mushrooms and carrots are cooked.

Meanwhile, place the salted water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a rolling boil. Add the farro and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for approximately 20-25 minutes, until the farro is cooked. It is ready when it has a consistent dense texture throughout without tasting hard or raw in the center.
Drain the farro into a colander and then place in a mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and mix gently. Add the vegetable mixture, dried cherries and chopped parsley to the farro and mix. Add additional coarse sea salt and ground pepper to taste.

To serve: Place a handful of arugula on each of 4 plates and top with a cup of the farro blend. Cut the beef into 20 nice slices and place 5 slices on each plate. Sprinkle with the diced white cheddar, and drizzle the beef, farro and arugula with the remaining olive oil. Garnish with fresh herb sprigs.
Serve with a small bowl of coarse sea salt for your guests to sprinkle as needed.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or