Eastern Washington State (Triticum Dicoccum)
Farro is a grain that's been enjoyed since ancient times. It's high in fiber, protein and nutrients, non-GMO and absolutely delicious - nutty, full-flavored and with an appealingly chewy texture. This one is also organic.
Sound too good to be true? It's not - and we couldn't be happier! Read on for serving suggestions, more about this wholegrain
farro, and a bit of background on our local Washington State growers.
Farro, also known as emmer,* was one of the earliest domesticated crops in the Near East, where it was highly valued as a crop that would do well in poor soil. There are even indications of humans consuming emmer as early as 17,000 B.C.-even before the advent of agriculture! It was grown in Egypt and Mesopotamia and eventually migrated, as many grains did, through the Mediterranean region and Europe.
Though farro was appreciated because it grew well in many soils and also for its heartiness - it is very high in protein and nutrients - it was valued just as much by some cultures, the Italians in particular, for its flavor. It's toothsome, wholesome, and full of big, nutty, grain flavor.
And it's especially healthy if it's organic and wholegrain, like this one!
Grains have three parts to the edible kernel: the endosperm, sperm (or germ), and bran. The endosperm is the inner soft, white carbohydrate portion. The germ contains many proteins, and the bran holds the vitamins and minerals. Farro is naturally high in fiber and nutrients - and due to growing conditions, this one has a whopping 17-19% protein - and in this wholegrain version, nothing has been removed. (Farro described as "pearled" or "semi-pearled" has had all or part of the bran removed and has often been parboiled as well, which speeds the cooking time but takes away from the nutritional value, nutty flavor and texture.)
Is Farro Gluten-Free? We often hear this question. Farro is not gluten-free, but it is considerably lower in gluten than wheat, and partly because it has not been bred over thousands of years for maximum yield and other qualities, it is more easily digestible by the human body than most other forms of wheat. If you have a relatively mild gluten sensitivity, farro may work for you. Check with your doctor.
Farro is quite versatile. It works as the basis for a robust, meal-in-itself salad, or a simple side dish. It cooks up beautifully, retaining a chewy texture and nutty flavor, and works well with robust flavors like red wine, wild mushrooms, onions and also meat.
To cook farro, use a ratio of 1:2-1/2 (for example, 1 cup farro to 2-1/2 cups water) to 1 to 5, depending on your use.
Farro is great in simple soups, made with fresh onion, thyme, tomatoes, richly flavored beef stock and red wine. Finish with a drizzle of punchy olive oil and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for a real luxury. This is a warming, filling meal hearty and flavorful, the epitome of satisfying! But it's not just for the winter - room-temperature farro salads make wonderful picnic lunches or summer dinners.
Maybe you're thinking, well, this sounds wonderful, but it does take a long time to cook, doesn't it? Yes…but we like to think of it as simple way to make a great dinner. Just empty a package into a bowl of water before you head to work in the morning to soak. When you get home, first thing, drain it, put it in a pot, cover with fresh water, bring to a boil, and then simmer. Then, cooks for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Sip a glass of wine. The last 20 minutes, saute some onion with mushrooms and a little thyme or rosemary or just a splash of red wine. Toss together a salad. Voilà. (And you'll have terrific leftovers for lunch the next day!)
About the Producer - A Family Farm for Four Generations
Lena Lentz Hardt lives on the farm that her great-grandfather established in 1898, near Marlin in eastern Washington . For generations, the family grew wheat and barley, just about the only things everyone thought grew on such dry land with very little precipitation. (Unlike famously rainy Seattle, the eastern side of Washington state receives far less moisture. Lentz Farms only averages a minuscule eight inches of rain a year.)
Lena is the last of her family living on the farm, and a few years ago, she was struggling with low wheat prices. One day, her business partner René Featherstone heard her bemoaning the low price of wheat and suggested she grow something else. Lena was skeptical. What else would grow on this dry land, with no irrigation?
But there was an answer: ancient hulled grains - a.k.a., farro and spelt. In the early 1990s, René had researched and published an article on spelt and other ancient grains, hardy crops that thrive in dry climates and yield very healthful (and tasty!) grains. Lena was convinced to try, and in 2000, they grew their first spelt crop. The next year, they added emmer, or farro, which is planted in the spring, while spelt is a fall crop.
Off to an excellent start, they nonetheless encountered challenges. Unlike wheat, spelt and emmer are not free-threshing crop, which means that the kernel is not all ready to go (for eating or grinding) after threshing. Instead, the kernel comes away from the stalk covered in a tough hull, which must then be removed with a de-hulling machine. Turns out de-hullers are not easy to find in this country. They ended up purchasing one in Germany. However, the hull has advantages for the grain. It protects it from pollution and helps keep it fresh right up until it's removed, shortly before packaging for sale.
Organic growing poses another set of challenges. It was not easy for Lena to find an organic seed-cleaning plant to separate the grains from the stalks after harvest - because if a plant processes conventionally grown grain, then organic growers can't use it for their organic grains.
But the demand for Lentz Farms grains has grown steadily, especially for the organic grains. And Lentz is providing not only a top-quality product, but another rare commodity in the eastern Washington grain market - they are a farm that sells directly back to the community, selling to small local bakeries and some shops throughout the region, rather than selling all of their product for large-scale national and often international distribution, as most wheat growers there do.
*A note on terminology: The word farro is Italian, and farro has long been a favorite in Italy. The term "farro" sometimes indicates any of three ancient hulled grains (emmer, spelt and einkorn), although in the U.S., the term generally refers to emmer specifically. Lentz Farms labels their product "Emmer Farro" to be clear, and we at ChefShop.com also use the word "farro" to refer to emmer.