Down at Doves Farm..

Michelle Berriedale-Johnson visits the UK’s most successful miller of specialist and gluten-free flours.

Clare Marriage is a foodie, and always has been. What interests her about the grains that Doves Farm grows and the flour that they mill is what you can create with them.

So while her husband, Michael, is combing the world’s commodity markets for obscure grains which they can mill to add to their already prodigious list of flours, Clare is in her test kitchen experimenting with recipes that will show her flours off at their best. A selection of her recipes appears on the back of every pack of Doves Farm flour to guide new bakers.

Apart from their seven gluten-free flours (the six opposite plus buckwheat), Doves Farm also mills six traditional wheat flours and another nine speciality flours including spelt, kamut, rye, malthouse and barleycorn bread flour, a pasta flour and a Wessex brown flour. This is grown exclusively on farms in Wessex and stone ground on traditional stonemills.

Apart from recipes for the flours, Clare does all the early experimentation for their range of cookies and bars, which includes three gluten-free cookies and two gluten-free breakfast cereals.

The Farm

Doves Farm lies on the North Wessex Downs, which have recently been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The 350 acre farm belonged originally to Michael Marriage’s parents who, back in the early 1970s, were happy to allow Clare and Michael, both early organic enthusiasts, to convert first one field, and then the whole farm, to organic.

At that point, although consumers showed some interest in buying organic wheat and bread, the trade did not want to have to mill it. So, determined not to be baulked in their ambition to sell their organic grain, the Marriages bought a mill. Here the two of them ground their grain - then drove off to the local health food stores to deliver their flour.

Gluten free

At around the same time Clare’s mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and it was suggested that a gluten-free diet might help her condition.
(Although some MS sufferers swear that diet does help MS - see The Best-Bet Diet for MS - www.ms-diet.org - the general consensus is now that a gluten-free diet does little for the condition.)
As long-term coeliacs will remember, in the 1970s there was very little available in terms of gluten-free produce in the UK - the only chance of eating pasta on a GF diet, for example, was to import food parcels from Italy!
So Clare and Michael added corn to their milling programme and Clare started to experiment with gluten-free baking.

The farm today

Doves Farm itself long since ceased to supply all of the grains needed for the mills. Although the Marriages pride themselves on maintaining local wheats and local traditions with their Wessex Brown Flour, many of the flours that they mill would not even grow in this country, while 350 acres could not hope to supply the quantity of grain that they now need to keep their mills busy.
Michael buys grain world-wide. Weather and growing conditions have a huge impact on each batch of grain (as they do on wines, olive oils and all crops) so blends need to be continually altered and adjusted to maintain quality and consistency of their flour.
Meanwhile the farm continues to operate as a fully organic, predominantly cereal farm growing wheat, spelt, rye, oats and beans rotated with wild grass mixes (to encourage the birds) and clover.
Two hundred and fifty sheep graze the downs and most of the fields at Doves Farm have permanent grass margin or beetle bank providing homes for birds, bats and beetles.

Milling

The original roller mill has long been outgrown and Doves Farm now uses stone grinding, roller milling and percussion milling as appropriate for each grain and each intended use.
Roller milling, for example, flattens the grain leaving hard jagged edges which can irritate the gut and be hard to digest - but it also maximises starch damage thus allowing a greater absorption of water. Stone grinding, on the other hand, produces an elliptical flour particles with smoother edges which are more digestible.

By 2001 Doves Farm’s gluten-free trade was growing so fast that they installed dedicated gluten-free milling equipment so that they could ensure complete separation when milling gluten-free and wheat flours - almost impossible to achieve in shared premises.

The flours

Doves Farm now mills and sells 22 different organic flours - all with a Clare’s tried and tested recipes on the back. Most of the flours are available in health food stores and on an encouragingly large number of supermarket shelves.
Latest arrivals are kamut flour and Clare’s pride an joy - a gluten-free self-raising flour.

The products

Doves Farm created their first organic biscuit in 1978 - a wholegrain digestive. Since then they have developed another seven biscuits, three of which (Lemon Zest, Hazelnut and Cheddar Cheese) are glutenfree and have just been reformulated. They use rice, potato, maize and buckwheat flours.

All the biscuits are very crisp - the Hazelnut and Lemon Zest being really flavoursome without being too sweet. The Cheddar Cheese, with a good crunch and plenty of cheese, could be eaten as cheese biscuits but are really better on their own - a substantial cocktail or a lunchtime snack.

The breakfast cereals come as straight cornflakes or as chocolate stars - maize and rice flakes covered in chocolate. They are available in most supermarkets and health food stores and the biscuits are now to be found in a number of motorway and petrol service stations.

Fairtrade

And finally... Doves Farm are very proud of the fact that their newly reformulated free-from cookies are the first free-from product to be awarded Fairtrade Foundation mark.

For more information on Doves Farm or their products check
www.dovesfarm.co.uk
01488 684880 - or look in the shops!

More articles on free-from foods

First Published in 2007

Return to freefrom foods home