Jeff Zimmerman is fulfilling a dream that first took seed in 1868. That’s when Charles Hayden, a man on a mission to plant and mill wheat in the Northwest, settled in Arizona after being held up by the high waters of the Salt River.
Jeff, who grew up on a North Dakota farm (though never farmed), purchased the Hayden Flour Mills trademark hoping to resurrect wheat varieties that hadn’t been grown for decades in order to offer a more wholesome and tastier flour. In 2010, Jeff found a 300-square foot space in the back of a sandwich shop in Queens Creek, barely 40 miles outside of Phoenix and 30 miles from Tempe where Hayden’s original mill operated until 1998. There seriously must be something in the water there, because the space in the sandwich shop Jeff was drawn to was run by Marco and Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco fame. They loved Jeff’s idea of buying locally grown and milled flour made from heritage wheat varieties.
Jeff ordered a 1,000-pound millstone from Austria (which took up about 200 of those 300 square feet), but had trouble convincing farmers to plant the unfamiliar types of wheat. Finally, a farmer right there in Queen Creek volunteered 30 of his 800 acres for an experiment with White Sonoran wheat, a variety brought to the Southwest by European missionaries in the 1700s.
The stalks wound up thriving and Jeff has since convinced more than a dozen local farms to plant everything from farro (a nutty ancient grain that’s delicious on its own or as flour) to Blue Beard durum (a hard variety that’s often ground into semolina for pasta and pizza dough). Each flour lends its own distinctive taste and texture to polenta, pancake mix, crackers, etc. Local chefs and home cooks began to clamor for everything in their lineup. When demand outgrew his tiny digs, Jeff moved the whole operation to the farm that gave him his first shot.
Still, Hayden Flour Mills’ production remains small, and the team tight-knit, with Jeff’s daughter at the helm, a bearded banjo player named Ben running the millstone and two of the farmers’ daughters helping with the books and other behind-the-scene tasks.
Better crackers come from better flour. And better flour comes from better wheat. Lucky for us, it all comes from Hayden Flour Mills.