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Grains Variety Evaluation

In early March 2020, AGC convened a group of bakers from across the region to test new varieties of wheat and hulless barley. This event was the culmination of over a year’s work led by Dr. Julie Dawson of UW-Madison’s Seed to Kitchen Collaborative and Dr. Lucia Gutierrez of UW-Madison’s Cereals Breeding and Quantitative Genetics Program.

The winter wheat varieties used during this bake test were planted at regional university research stations and Janie’s Farm in IL, Meadowlark Organics in WI, and Oeschner Farms in Trumansburg, NY in fall 2018 and harvested in July 2019. The wheat lines were crosses of historic winter wheat varieties known for artisanal breadmaking quality and good performance in organic systems in France, the Northeastern US, and Canada, and modern winter wheat varieties that have performed well in organic trials in the Northeastern US.

During the growing season, farmers and researchers measured performance of the five lines, which are in the final stages of testing for performance in organic systems. After harvest, the grain was tested at the University of Illinois Food Science Pilot Plant, where AGC’s Research & Variety Testing Working Group Coordinator Brian Jacobson and his team measured protein content and other factors important for bread baking. With that data in hand, Julie, Lucia and Pablo Sandro, a graduate student working on the organic wheat breeding project, chose four breeding lines and one check variety for bakers to prepare during the test.

The day prior to the test, host Andrew Hutchison of Madison Sourdough in Madison, WI prepared levain (a mixture of sourdough starter, flour, and water) for each breeding line and the check variety for an overnight bulk fermentation. Other participating bakers — Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread in Chicago; Halee Wepking of Meadowlark Organics in RidgewayI WI; Kirk Smock of ORIGIN Bread in Madison, WI; Matt Kronschabel of Bootleg Batard in Chicago; and Solveig Tofte of Sun Street Breads in Minneapolis MN — shaped the dough, paying close attention and taking notes on the performance of the different tested varieties as they worked. Loaves were then baked, labeled, and left to rest overnight. The next morning, bakers rated the finished breads for various quality parameters including crust, crumb, overall appearance, and flavor components.

In the evening, a public tasting was held, where folks came to the bakery and rated the bread and cookies for their appearance, texture, and flavor on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the most preferred. Julie compiled all of this data, and she, Pablo and Lucia used these findings, along with the field performance data, to make decisions about which wheat and barley varieties to continue to focus on breeding and improving in the future.

Meet the Varieties

In early March 2020, AGC convened a group of bakers from across the region to test new varieties of wheat and hulless barley. This event was the culmination of over a year’s work led by Dr. Julie Dawson of UW-Madison’s Seed to Kitchen Collaborative and Dr. Lucia Gutierrez of UW-Madison’s Cereals Breeding and Quantitative Genetics Program.

140.05: Warthog x Gua

a modern hard red winter wheat popular with organic farmers in the Northeast and Midwest, crossed to Gua, a historic variety that has done well in organic trials in France.

212.08: Red Fife x Arapahoe

a historic spring wheat from Ontario, Canada also crossed to Arapahoe.

174.01: Clark’s Cream x Arapahoe

an older hard white winter wheat crossed to Arapahoe, a modern hard red winter wheat from the University of Nebraska.

260.06: Rouge de Bordeaux x Warthog

a historic winter wheat variety from France with good baking quality crossed to Warthog.

Bake Test Results

The test showed that the lines researchers chose to advance to on-farm trials all have suitable baking properties compared to the commercial check, and were rated more highly for certain characteristics.

Line 140.05 was not very stable in the short fermentation test but performed much better in the long fermentation test. Some bakers even said it was their favorite line in the long fermentation evaluation.
Line 174.01 was stable but consistently rated slightly excessive at most stages during the baking process, particularly for extensibility and proofing strength, but was still acceptable.
Line 212.18 was rated insufficient for extensibility during mixing compared to other lines, but was close to optimal for the rest of the process.  
Line 260.06 was close to optimal throughout the baking process.  
The check, Arapahoe, was rated slightly insufficient for extensibility during mixing and for proofing strength, and then close to optimal for the rest of the process.

Future Bake Tests

The 2020 event was the first time AGC helped bring together researchers, farmers, bakers, and the public for a joint grain evaluation. Through a USDA-OREI grant in partnership with Cornell University, we have funding to continue hosting these events through 2023. Because of COVID-19 restrictions in 2021, AGC and partners hosted a virtual baking test in May with six bakers to gather more data on the five lines in preparation for their commercial release in the coming years.