The Dutch windmill making artisanal bread

In the 1960s, almost every Dutch windmill stood still. Now, one of the country’s oldest working ones is spinning again to help make artisanal bread.

When most of us think of Dutch windmills, we picture quaint structures sprinkled across the pastoral plains that whimsically spin in the breeze. In reality, most of these mechanical mills pumped water, ground grain and were once run by passionate and skilled millers in the 18th Century. Now, though, millers at Kijkduin Windmill in the Dutch province of North Holland are bringing new life and love to the country’s flour industry.

Relatively few of the Netherlands’ 1,000 or so remaining windmills were ever used to grind flour. Instead, most worked as irrigation systems throughout the low-lying country, and many still function as backups for more modern Dutch water management systems. Yet, Kijkduin Windmill, located in the village of Schoorl, is one of the country’s oldest working grain refinement mills. Originally constructed in 1772, Kijkduin’s operation has ebbed and flowed over the years. But after several rounds of restorations following World War Two, Kijkduin officially opened its doors to the public in 2017, ushering in a new era for the mill.

On Saturdays, visitors are invited to explore the windmill’s flour operation. They’re also able to buy several different types of the flour it produces, including nutrient-rich artisanal wholemeal flour. Local bakeries and shops use this flour too, baking it into delicious wholemeal wheat bread and other treats. 

Producing wholemeal flour by windmill isn’t easy – it should have an extraction rate as close to 100% as possible, meaning that millers must make use of every part of the grain as it’s milled. Since the advent of industrial flour-making technology in the 19th Century, the number of people with the skill to make artisanal wholemeal flour has declined. In fact, there are only about 40 professional millers today. Dutch millers like the ones at Kijkduin are working to change that by training volunteers to mill. Unesco even awarded the craft a place on its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list in 2017.

(Video by Michelle Potters, text by Emily Cavanagh) 

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