Some of the city’s more meticulous chefs are sourcing small-batch Ontario flour from a 193-year-old mill in southwestern Ontario. Here’s why.
Pasta has very few ingredients, which makes the quality of its main one, flour, very important. So it’s not for nothing that Rob Gentile, who serves some of the city’s best noodles at Buca, uses flour from the 193-year-old Arva Flour Mill in southwestern Ontario. (It’s in Buca’s breads, too.) Turns out that Victor Barry, chef and co-owner of both Splendido and County General, gets his flour from Arva as well. So does Picea 997, a new Neapolitan pizza joint at Dupont and Ossington. “I won’t use any other flour because there’s nothing as good in Ontario,” says Barry, who makes pastries, pasta, and bread with it—the high protein content gives the latter a springier texture and a richer flavour.
The Arva Flour Mill is located in the small town of Arva, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Toronto, just north of London, Ontario. It’s a cramped operation run by fourth-generation owner Mike Matthews. When Matthews says that his methods are traditional, he’s not kidding: The machinery and the milling process have not changed since 1907. “I like to see history stay alive and provide something no one else is doing,” says Matthews, whose great-grandfather bought the three-floor facility in 1917.
The mill is the oldest of its kind in Canada, running partially on water turbines, and produces up to 1,200 pounds of flour an hour. That’s not much compared to larger factories, which churn out as much in one day as Arva does in 120. In addition to Matthews, there’s only one other full-time worker plus an apprentice. The wheat is grown at a local farm, less than 20 kilometres away. “We don’t add anything to our flour, like preservatives, and you can’t get more local than this,” says Matthews. Some of Arva’s products have been certified organic for 20 years. “Their milling process is a lot slower than the other companies so the temperature of the flour is a lot lower and not cooked during the process,” says Buca’s Gentile. “It just makes the bread more aromatic and adds these flavours that really remind you of an artisanal bakery in the country.” It’s also much fresher than most of the stuff you’ll find at the grocery store. When Barry places an order for one of his restaurants, he receives the flour five days after it’s milled. “There are a lot of enzymes and bacteria on the wheat, so when you’re making bread with this flour it’s still so alive,” he says. “It’s amazing.”
Arva Flour Mills, 2042 Elgin St., Arva, 519-660-0199 or toll-free 1-877-630-2296, arvaflourmill.com.
CORRECTION, NOV. 29, 2012: The original version of his article listed an incorrect phone number for Arva Flour Mill. The numbers above are correct.