The milling process: from wheat to flour

Do you know how flour is made?

Moulin de Cussol à Verdelais (Gironde) : Moulin du XVIIIe siècle, communal depuis 1997. Association du Moulin de Cussol by Alain BordFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Summer, harvest time

Once harvested, the wheat is transported to silos where it's dried and stored for several months. It is then taken to the mills by truck, train, or canal boat, where it is stored in silos again.

Moulin Cyprien, vu depuis la Sarthe. Île MoulinSart by Marine Rouchteau - Communauté de Communes du Val de SartheFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Traditional mills and industrial mills


Traditionally, wheat was milled in small mills that worked thanks to wind or water power. Many of these mills are  now functioning again, but most flour is now made in industrial mills.

Minoterie Mazeau du XIXème/XXème siècle by MazeauFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Industrial mills began to appear in the 19th century. At the time, the mills in these large buildings were powered by water. Today, they are equipped with electrical motors and work automatically, sometimes 24 hours a day. Bakers buy their flour from there.

Distribution des godets sur l’aqueduc et sa noria (75 litres / sec). Noria Al-‘Utmaniyya by Nicolas T. CamoissonFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Cleaning the wheat

Wheat is transported around the mills via bucket elevator or suction tube to undergo different cleaning operations.

Moulin de l’Évêque : Serge devant l’ensemble du blutoir by Marie-Rose Ampoulange - CoustatyFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

The wheat is cleaned and sorted so that only the healthy grain is kept, and impurities are removed (like dust, small stones, hay, or poor-quality grain). Different machines are used for this purpose (like sieves, croppers, peelers, sifters, suction tubes, brushes)

Au pied du boisseaux différents cylindres by CharpentierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Healthy grain needs to be kept at optimal humidity levels so it can be milled. This makes it easier to separate the kernel from its casing. They are therefore humidified or dried before being left for 24 to 48 hours in bushels for clean wheat storage.

Les 2 broyeurs et le convertisseur by Bertrand DrapierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Turning wheat into flour

After it's cleaned and humidified, the grain is turned to flour in three steps:
- grinding
- reducing
- sifting

Salle des cylindres à Unieux (43) by CharpentierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

1. Grinding

The wheat grain is passed through machines with large cylinders to separate the grain from its casing.

Moulin de Graveyroux (3)FDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

This process repeats around five or six times between cylinders that are closer and closer together with  thinner flutes each time.

Broyeur moulin de Gerveaux à Clisson (44) by CharpentierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

2. Reducing

This operation consists of grinding the grain even more finely to obtain a powder

Les 2 broyeurs et le convertisseur by Bertrand DrapierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

3. Sifting

This is the final step to get a finer powder that will become flour. The product passes through various fine cylinders to get a very fine flour. Some modern industrial mills have added several pairs of milling machines to their factory floors.

Salle des planchisters à Unieux (43) by CharpentierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Sieving

Sieving is done in plansifters. These are wooden crates containing horizontal sieves that are powered by an external force attached by a belt. They separate out the product of the milling process. The plansifter room is especially noisy.

Salle d’ensachage à Unieux (43) by CharpentierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Bagging

The flour is stored in a flour chamber and put into sacks. The sacks are labeled with the name of the miller and the mill.

Salle d’ensachage à Unieux (43) by CharpentierFDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

The sacks are still sealed by hand in certain industrial mills.

Moulin de Graveyroux (4)FDMF - Fédération des moulins de France

Different kinds of flour

Flour in France is labeled with a T then a number. The letter T stands for Type. The whiter the flour, the lower the number. The most refined flour is all-purpose flour. It is one of the most widely used in pastry-making and is labeled T45 in France. It is made up entirely of the kernel of the wheat grain.

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