A fourth-generation miller and baker, Nicky Giusto quit his job as a graphic designer to join the family business at Central Milling, which provides restaurants and bakeries with premium quality flour and grains. It’s the same flour we use in all of our Williams-Sonoma baking mixes, from cookies to cupcakes.
Giusto knows everything there is to know about flour — including how to achieve the perfect, crusty loaf. I asked him about what led him to the baking business, working with farmers and a typical day at work. Keep reading to hear what he had to say.
What’s the story behind Central Milling?
I come from a family of millers and bakers. My great-grandfather was a baker in Italy, and he and my great-grandmother came over and started a health food store in San Francisco in 1940. They were way before their time, with sprouted grains and whole grain items, and even gluten-free.
Central Milling has been around since 1867 — it’s the oldest continuously operating company in Utah. The Giusto family, including my uncle and grandfather, and our current partners, the Perry family, resurrected the mill in 1995. They’re on the farming side, and we’re the baking side.
How did you become involved in the family business?
I was never pressured to join the family business. I got a Master’s degree in graphic design and worked at a software company for three years, but I got sick of sitting in front of a computer. Baking was always my hobby — I found it soothing to make bread. My uncle asked me to come work for the company, and I thought it was a great idea because I could learn from incredible bakers across the country, spending time in their bakeries. And that’s exactly waht I did. They have taught me so much.
How do you choose the farms you work with to source grains? What is unique about them?
The first thing we look at is how the farm is run. We always choose family farms, then meet the families and inspect the land before we choose to grow product on their soil. Once we see the track record of the wheat for a year or two, we’ll decide to take the wheat they are growing or ask them to grow a specific varietal for us, starting a relationship with them. If we commit to a farm, we commit to their wheat — whatever comes around, we guarantee we will buy. It’s great for farmers because they always have a customer for the wheat, and we pay a premium because they are growing what we want. It’s very symbiotic.
What special characteristics do you see in Central Milling flours as a product of that relationship?
Consistency, which is hard to achieve with organic product, and flavor. We gravitate toward high-altitude, harder wheat because it has a higher flavor profile than softer varieties.
What is your relationship with the bakeries you distribute to?
We don’t just manufacture something and sell it to them, we listen to them. They tell us what they want in the flour and we deliver, coming up with blends to fit the characteristics they desire. It’s a partnership that the customers rely on. We are advocates for bakers and farmers — whatever it takes to help them make better bread.
What excites you about your partnership with Williams-Sonoma?
The idea that our farmers can get recognition on a large scale. It’s easy to put a baker in the limelight, but nobody cares about the commodity. I love that Williams-Sonoma wants to know who is growing this stuff and wants to promote that person. There’s nothing more important than creating an emotional connection with consumers back to the farm.
Describe a typical day at work.
I’m all over the map! Yesterday I was baking in the morning and in afternoon meetings, but earlier this week I was working Las Vegas night shifts, training mixing crews (there’s a lot of coffee involved). I’m going to trade shows, designing packaging for our products, working with distributors and talking to farmers. I love every second of it.
Any tips for home bakers?
Be patient, and don’t rush bread. Good bread takes time. It’s an experience, not a chore, and you should relish in every step of the process. It’s a live being that transforms and grows and makes you so happy when you pull it out of the oven.
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.