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Meet durum wheat (and the farmers growing it in Clare Valley)

This series of blogs is to join the movement to understand where our food, especially baking and bread-making ingredients, come from, and to appreciate the farmers and families involved. I hope you, like I am, enjoy the interview and find it insightful. Farmers, we thank you!

Pangkarra Foods is well-known in SA for premium stone-ground durum pasta and chickpea and bean high-protein snacks. (This is not a sponsored post.)

Baker’s Treat also has Pangkarra’s delicious and unique stone-milled wholegrain durum flour—great for breads, pizza, pasta and general baking—available to home bakers.
See the end for comments and tips about using durum flour in your bread.

Image: durum sourdough bread (75:25 blend durum:white wheat flours).

Your name/family name: Katherine Maitland

Farm Name (if applicable): Anama Park or Pangkarra Foods is the brand name.

Where are you located (region)? Clare Valley, South Australia.

What characterises your region (e.g. soil/s, climate, rainfall, other)?
Rainfall average 450ml, but the last few years have been more like 300mls.
Climate is typical of four seasons, summer, autumn, winter, spring. Soil is red brown clay loam.

What are the primary crop/s you grow? Durum, wheat, chickpeas, faba beans, hay (oaten and wheaten)
What size is your cropping area? 2700ha
What else do you grow? Biomass- hay production.

How much does your land produce? From a poor harvest to average harvest to abundant harvest?
Depending on the year, yields can vary significantly with each crop, paddock, rainfall and season. The last few years (<2021) have been good-average.

What are the primary factors (e.g. weather) influencing a “good” harvest vs a “poor” harvest?
Weather and rainfall can be primary factors. For some farmers, even wind and frost can hurt a crop and change the game from good to very bad rapidly (this happened to our neighbours a few years ago).

Of the factors which can be humanly controlled, what influences the profitability of your particular farming?
Management, analytics and risk. These are important factors to our yearly observations and impact on what we grow and when each year.
We are considerably lucky where we are in the mid north as the seasons are relatively predictable. We are close to the market and Adelaide, and live in a growing tourism region with plenty of people in the region for services and employment.

How do you sell your produce? (Direct to consumer? Commodity? Combination?)
We sell grain to markets and we store on farm. With our Pangkarra products, we sell to the consumer through our online shop, direct to local accounts and to distributors.
Our Pangkarra products are used locally, Australia wide, and some exported to Singapore.
With our grains, most of the lentils, faba beans and hay is all exported to Japan, Egypt or South Korea.

Can you eat your own produce? Or buy it when processed?
With Pangkarra, of course. With our primary production, not so much.

Why farming? What is your farming story/family background (if applicable)
Challenge! Love of the land and the lifestyle and have been farming for 20 years. Jim (my husband) is fifth generation farmer.

How much work does operating your farm involve?
There is always something to do and never a dull moment. It is very seasonal with harvest and seeding, but throughout the year, there are always projects and other jobs that need to be done.

What’s a brief overview of the months for your crops? (e.g. when are you sowing, harvesting, etc.)
We aim to sow our crops in April (regardless if it has rained or not).
Hay cutting normally starts around September- November.
Harvest November- December.

Has farming changed over your years? (e.g. technology, machinery)
Absolutely. Technology has played a huge part- auto steer, drones, efficiencies of machines. Data management – mapping etc. Precision agriculture is a massive part of the business.

Do you farm conventional or organic/biodynamic or other? Why have you chosen that option?
We are always looking to become more efficient and work smarter, not harder! We farm conventional because it is what is best for our business.

Is there something you would like to grow but conditions/markets/consumers prevents or makes it not viable?
It would be good to grow hemp as there is a demand for it in the market, but we don’t have enough rainfall.

What do you wish consumers/bakers/cooks/non-farming people knew about your product? What frustrates you that people don’t know or appreciate about the process of growing food?
It’s not easy! From rocks in chickpeas, to weevils in grain, there are a lot of issues to deal with on farm that consumers would not know about.  

As farmers, we have learnt that we are not just commodity growers, but we are growing food for people. Some forget this. It is always food, from the moment it is sown.

How can consumers better support or connect with you specifically (e.g. social media) or farmers generally? See their website here.
We love to connect with our consumers, and we try and do this through social media, newsletters, word of mouth and events.

Focusing on durum wheat… how is durum wheat different to bread wheat? Is it easier, harder or similar to grow and harvest?
Durum is a high quality “hard” wheat variety and is not an easy grain to grow. It has a higher protein than bread wheat and can only be grown in certain climatical conditions (i.e. good rainfall, quality soil, etc.).  

What are the main ways durum wheat is used in food?
Predominately pasta, but also biscuits, bread, and other baking.

Your durum flour is stone-milled: why stone vs modern roller mills? Do you have an on-site mill? Is the milling of durum different to bread wheat?  
Wholegrain foods contain all three elements of the grain- the wheat germ, the endosperm and the bran. Essentially, it is the whole wheat- nothing has been added, nothing has been taken away. Wholemeal foods are milled with a roller mil, and the grain is put back together again. Thus, wholegrain foods are more natural as the integrity of the grain has not been lost. Bread wheat or durum can both be stone milled or roller milled.

How does durum compare nutritionally to bread wheats?
It has a higher protein.

Thanks Katherine and the Maitland family! 

Image (supplied): expansive wheat fields in the Clare Valley, South Australia, grown by Pangkarra Foods/Maitland Farms.

My comments and tips for baking with Pangkarra’s wholegrain durum wheat flour:

Durum flour has a lovely golden colour and results in a distinct yellow bread crumb. The flavour is wheat-y and nutty with a delicious ‘buttery’ taste.
The flour is stone-milled finely resulting in a mild and smooth wholegrain eating texture in pasta and breads.

The protein distribution is different compared with bread wheats; wholegrain durum flour results in a dense crumb, typical of wholegrain wheat doughs, and is pleasantly waxy and spongy.
Aim for a bread dough of moderate softness, avoiding very wet (or dry) textures, to achieve a balance of volume and softness in the resulting bread.
Durum is well suited to long and slow mixing by hand or machine. It ferments actively and retains gas well during fermentation and may be used for same-day-baked or cold (refrigerated) long fermented doughs.  

It is a full-flavoured base flour for doughs with inclusions (e.g. dried fruits, seeds, etc.).  

Bakers vary with preferred ratios of durum. A blend of 75:25 or 50:50 durum:white bread wheat flour (e.g. Laucke Euro flour) gives a lighter texture bread with the colour and flavours from the durum.

Remember, durum flour, like all flours, may vary from country to country. So, individual results may vary and some testing with your locally available durum flour may be required.  

Durum is well worth trying for home and professional bakers. Some might find it becomes their regular flour of choice!

Image: 100% wholegrain durum flour sourdough loaf.