I set out to write up my interview with Don Lewis, but every time I reviewed my notes, I realized that I was much more impressed by what he has done than by anything he said. At first glance it was hard for me to recognize the culinary significance of his accomplishments, so I invite you to read on to understand. Don, owner and master baker at Wild Hive Farms, is a pioneer in sustainable grain-based local agriculture in our region. Nearly all of the nation's wheat is grown on vast fields and milled in factories in the Midwest. The wheat there is bred for uniformity and yield instead of flavor or nutrition, leading to a bland sameness in our shelf-staple processed baked goods. Don’s epiphany struck when he was picking up some organic feed for his hens at Lightning Tree Farm and came upon a barrel of flour that Alton Earnhart had made.''I stuck my hand in it. It felt different, it smelled different, it tasted different. It was intriguing.”Lewis bought a second-hand milling machine to grind Mr. Earnhart's wheat and produce flour to bake breads and pastries from local grains. Soon he began to sell his bagged flour from his bakery at Wild Hive Farm.
Bakers, pastry chefs and gourmet cooks who started baking with his locally grown and milled flours found that baking with high-quality, small-batch flour produces baked goods that have much more flavor and texture and are more varied according to the grains selected. This explains why when Eataly, New York City’s premier source for authentic Italian foods, searched for United States–based flour with which to make their Italian breads here, they selected Wild Hive. Lewis worked with them to find the exact texture they required, and now when upscale New Yorkers and tourists buy their Italian breads at Eataly, the flour originates right here in Clinton Corners.
But the Italians do not have an exclusive on Wild Hive’s goodness. Last year, Cafe Le Perche, a French bakery, bar and café in Hudson, New York, brought bags of French flour for Don Lewis to match so they could produce authentic French baguettes here in the Hudson Valley. Don worked with baker Lisa Brickman to produce a stone-ground flour using locally grown grains that would resemble the flour from the Le Perche region in France. The blend of 60 percent soft white pastry flour and 40 percent hard red wheat flour is milled each week to guarantee freshness, and Hudson has become the baguette capital for our part of the world.
Don now sources grains from many farms in our region, milling a vast variety, including red spring wheat, white winter wheat, rye, corn, oats and spelt. From these he produces different flours to make breads, cakes, pies, cereals, pastas and polenta. Wild Hive’s flours and fresh baked goods are available at the café, as are local fresh fruits, vegetables and salad greens. You can take home Don’s fresh pasta, ravioli, soups, meats, pot pies, quiches, and more. Wild Hive also carries a variety of locally produced dairy, beer and other products. The bakery-café is open most days from 9 to 5 and until 9:30 on Thursday through Saturday for dinner with live music.