Bob Klein | Founder, Community Grains | Oakland, CA
Pushing the philosophy of "farm-to-table" Bob Klein started community grains as a way of bringing the movement to wheat production. While initially intended to be used in pasta for his restaurant, Oliveto, Bob is expanding his reach while helping to user in a new era of grain growing.
What Inspired You To Start Your Company?
In 2007, I (along with Oliveto’s executive chef at the time) was in search of a high-quality, locally sourced wheat flour to make the house pasta. The search turned out to be much more difficult than we had expected. I realized there was actually no mechanism for tracking wheat from seed to table and not much of a market for organic, local wheat. I started talking to farmers, breeders, millers, scientists to work on a solution, and that turned into the Oliveto Grain Project.
It turned out that everyone - Farmers, bakers, chefs - was really excited about these incredible grains and the fact that we were doing 100% whole milled wheat. The flavors and performance of our wheat exceeded common assumptions about whole grain, so it kind of took off. In 2010, we launched Community Grains, a line of whole wheat pastas and flours made from wheat grown in California. Some of the farms we work with grow Italian heirloom wheat varieties and some grow more modern varieties well-suited to healthy, California soil.
Tell us about your products.
Our products are true whole grains - we whole mill, so all of what goes into the mill comes out the other end. We don’t separate and reconstitute in a fixed ratio of endosperm, to germ, to bran, as is done with commercial flour. You get all of the good stuff. We do have one line of extracted pasta with just 3% of the largest bits sifted out - we though whole wheat skeptics might appreciate a slightly lighter pasta.
Our major focus this year is on our Identity Preserved line of flours, pasta, and polenta. Just as you know who grew your local tomatoes and what their farming practices may be, we want you to know everything about our grain. We want you to know who farmed it, how, what type of wheat it is, when it was milled, and so on. To do this, we’re working to build a local grain infrastructure that supports this level of data collection - we think the more you know, the healthier our food system will be.
We also happen to be in awe of the farmers with whom we work. Right now we’re working closely with Paul Muller, of Fully Belly Farms, and Fritz Durst, of Tule Farms - incredible farmers. We’re all learning a lot from each other about how this local grain infrastructure can take shape - we’re hoping that future farmers will be excited about adding wheat and other grains as a rotation or cover crop to meet growing demand.
We’re also thinking about future Identity Preserved products: think single-serve cookies, fresh bread, and kid’s snacks! I could really go on and on.
Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From?
My wife and I have owned an Italian restaurant, Oliveto, for almost 30 years now. It’s fine dining upstairs and there’s a cafe with a wood-fired oven downstairs, but we try to stay close to the ground. We look for simple, seasonal ingredients, mostly from farmers we know and trust. We look to combine tradition and innovation, which is a bit like Italy meets California. I think that energy is channeled in Community Grains as well.
What Other Local Food Artisans or Chefs Do You Admire?
We work quite a bit with Josey Baker and Matt Kreutz from Firebrand. They are exceptional bakers with business know-how. We’re thrilled to be working with them, but more importantly, we love what they do with our flours. They’re curious and open to experimenting with low-protein grains that the commercial flour industry would reject in a heartbeat.
What other product in the box from Chef Michael Fiorelli basket would you most want to try?
Believe it or not, we end up eat a lot of bread over here. I’d really like to get my hands on some of that Hepp's Rosemary Salt on a slice of rustic, buttered bread.