There is almost no limit to how far a passionate bread baker will go in pursuit of her craft. Witness Nan Kohler, whose pursuit of the perfect loaf resulted in having a 2,500-pound grain mill shipped to Pasadena from Austria.
That shining new mill, constructed almost entirely out of wood in order to better control the heat generated by milling, is the centerpiece of Kohler's new business, Grist & Toll, which she opened this weekend with business partner television producer Marti Noxon ("Angel," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer").
The store, located just past where the 110 Freeway turns into Arroyo Parkway, specializes in selling flour milled from locally grown wheat, as well as artisanally made bread and other bread-related products.
At Sunday's grand opening, assorted bread heads milled about, inspecting the gleaming pine machine, and sampling breads baked by representatives of Los Angeles Bread Bakers, an organization whose blog currently features a post on growing wheat in your front yard.
The local grain movement is just starting in Southern California, and there is an air of happenstance attached to it. Kohler and Noxon met when they kept running into each other on vacation in Paris several years ago. Kohler, who is avidly seeking more grain farmers to work with, found Shepherd thanks to a helpful county extension agent.
And as for the grain itself, maybe that was the happiest accident of all. Shepherd, an organic farmers market grower, had a five-acre block of land open and thought he'd try grain. He bought the only organic seed he could find, planted it and then didn't touch it until it was time for harvest.
That's when he found out the variety he'd planted – Triple IV – is intended not for milling, but for animal feed. Still, when he sent it to the California Wheat Commission for analysis, he said the results came back "outstanding."
And at least as sampled in the breads baked by Mark Stambler, Erik Knutzen, Michael O'Malley (who built the wood-fired mobile oven used Sunday) and Paul and Dana Morgan, there wasn't much argument.
Grist & Toll, 990 S. Arroyo Parkway, No. 1, Pasadena, gristandtoll.com.