Flour power: Upinngil Farm turning tons of its wheat into pasta

The Recorder, November 15, 2017, by Richie Davis

GILL — Sorrel Hatch and Isaac Bingham are using their noodles.

With eight tons of whole wheat harvested last year as Upinngil Farm’s third “signature product” — after strawberries and milk — they pretty much had to.

The bags of whole-wheat flour and wheat berries are lined up on the shelves at Upinngil’s farm store, along with home-baked bread, cookies and other baked goods.

Growing wheat — which was a dream of Sorrel’s father, Clifford Hatch, even though he was told it wasn’t a realistic crop in damp New England — has become an increasing reality at Upinngil, which has 10 to 15 acres planted in hard red winter wheat.

The peak year for the farm yielded 12 tons of wheat, although the yield has been uneven, largely a function of how much rainfall there is.

“There were fluctuations in yield, so in some years we’d have tons of wheat to sell. All of a sudden, we’ve got to move it. We could sell it wholesale to bakers, but we wanted to find more ways to sell it as retail products.”

Hatch began selling her homemade bread, scones and cookies to showcase the flour, and still does, but she and Bingham were looking for more products with staying power.

“We were trying to figure out what to do with it all,” says Bingham.

Then she used the wheat to make her own pasta for the family, hanging the fettucini out to dry on the spindle backs of kitchen chairs. She also handed out the recipe encouraging customers to try it for themselves.

“It was very homemade and pretty primitive, but it showed it was possible,” said Bingham, who sought a manufacturer to turn their wheat into noodles on a grander scale. But he couldn’t find anyone who could turn it into that kind of attractive, shelf-stable product. They said they preferred durham semolina wheat, and that the farm’s whole wheat would be too coarse to make into pasta.

Upinngil began shipping some of its wheat to Vermont Fresh Pasta, based near Rutland, when Black River Produce came to this area and, and the company turned it into 40-pound batches of refrigerated fetuccini. But that has only a two-week shelf life in the Gill store’s refrigerator case.

Whole Foods called the farm about four years ago as it prepared to open its Hyannis store, planting a new idea for the Gill farm: could they sell some of their wheat to a New Jersey pasta maker for the new store to sell as part of its Massachusetts product line for its 2014 opening?

Although manufactured in the Garden State, 900 pounds of the Massachusetts flour was converted into whole-wheat pasta shaped like the Bay State.

But the real solution came a couple of years ago when they visited South Hero Island, Vt., where Bingham grew up. There, in the Hackett’s Orchard store, they discovered locally made Grand Isle Pasta, produced by a Swiss-Mexican couple in a converted barn, and so Upinngil, too, has now turned to the Vermont pasta makers to turn their flour into retail packages of pasta.

The pasta — made into fusilli spirals and flower-shaped campanelle from 200-pound batches of flour that Bingham sends up to northern Vermont when they go up to visit his grandfather — is returned in seven big boxes at a time in their car, each filled with about 300 10-ounce bags. And the pasta, some of it colored red with beet or orange with butternut squash, some of it plain or flavored with a blend of basil, parsley, sage and oregano — has been selling well, Bingham and Hatch report.

About three-quarters of the farm’s wheat is still sold as flour and wheat berries, but beginning in August 2016, they began turning some of their whole wheat, grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, into pasta. (This year’s scant two-ton yield, because of all the rain, has meant that Upinngil has sold out its fresh pasta product — which sometimes get sold to Bernardston Farm Kitchen or Turners Falls’ Great Falls Harvest restaurants.)

But the farm is ready to make its third batch of Grand Isle pasta from the wheat they do have on hand.

For their own use, Hatch and Bingham buy for their own family in larger bags and cook with their farm-made cheese. And they’re looking forward to maybe adding a penne variety and possibly selling in a family size if demand continues.

“We bake with it and cook with it regularly,” Bingham says. “Our customers always tell us when they make a meal that’s 100 percent Upinngil,” using cheese and beef from the farm store. “We think it will continue to grow.”

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