We source much of the wheat we use from farmers based within a 25-30 mile radius of our historic Essex site, Chelmer Mills. Many of these local farmers come from families who have supplied Marriage's for generations. We also use wheat from farms just a few miles away that are owned by the Marriage family. Essex is the best wheat-growing area in the country and sourcing locally helps us to reduce food miles. When needed, we add a proportion of very high protein Canadian Red wheat.
As soon as a lorry load of grain arrives at Chelmer Mills, we test a sample to make sure that its characteristics, including protein content and variety, meet our rigorous technical specifications. Last century, the millers would have looked at the grain - and probably bitten it - to see if it was good enough quality. Nowadays we have a laboratory to do this testing. The first stage of the milling process involves the wheat being passed over a coarse screen to remove unwanted objects like straw or occasionally wood that may have been picked up during harvest.
The next step is to blend the different categories of wheat together and weigh the wheat in preparation for cleaning. Fine sieves remove foreign particles and the stoner removes any small stones. The wheat is dampened in order to toughen up the bran skin before milling and then stored while the moisture is absorbed; a process called conditioning. Once conditioned, the wheat is weighed and undergoes two further cleaning processes to remove any remaining dust. Finally, the wheat is sorted mechanically by colour to eliminate any remaining impurities.
The clean wheat passes through a series of rollers which shear open the wheat grains, so that wheatgerm and bran can be separated from the white endosperm by sieving. The semolina travels on to reduction rolls to be milled into white flour, while the bran is taken away and made into animal feed.
For wholemeal flour, the bran and germ that have been removed are re-introduced.
At Marriage's, we still make some flours in the old-fashioned way, grinding the whole grain between horizontal French Burr stones. Our Victorian millstones are made from French Burr, quarried from the Marne Valley in Northern France. The stones are 4' 6" in diameter and are made of quartz sections which are cemented together with plaster. When stonegrinding flour, the cleaned wheat passes into the middle of a set of millstones; the top one, or runner, rotates whilst the bottom one, the bed, stays still. As the wheat goes into the middle of the stone, it spreads and is cut and ground by the grooves on the stones. A chute takes grain into the stones and is shaken by a shaft called the damsel. When the hopper of wheat runs low, a little bell still rings to warn the miller.
Once flour is milled, it is stored in silos before being packing into sacks or bulk tankers for bakeries and small bags for home bakers.
Marriage's onsite baker tests our flours by baking up to 150 loaves per week to ensure each variety offers consistent performance. We work to ensure that all our flour meets the highest standards, whether it will be used for professional or home bakers.