Island bakers lean heavily on mill for technical support

by Teresa Acklin
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   While many flour mills conduct test bakes to ensure the quality of their flour, few are furnished with the range of equipment that has been installed at Molinos de Puerto Rico.

   According to Eloy A. Nieves, flour operations manager, the mill was one of the first to install such a comprehensive baking laboratory. “The idea was to simulate what we see in the field,” Mr. Nieves said.

   In addition to the normal range of test equipment, the company invested U.S.$20,000 in the exact commercial mixer used by 90% of the bakers on the island. A similarly expensive commercial roller was installed as well. Devices were manufactured by International Equipment and Supplies Co.

   After testing recipes using smaller mixers, the company will make a 200-lb batch of dough to see whether its flour will perform on the larger scale equipment as well. The baking lab also includes a freezer because a number of island bakers freeze dough overnight before baking it the following day.

   “To be honest, they mistreat the dough and we have to be sure that the flour has adequate gluten and other qualities so that it will perform.” Mr. Nieves said.

   In addition, Lucas Fuentes, techical service representative, offers bakers product development services, helping them formulate new recipes. The company takes this service “on the road,” offering seminars on various parts of the island each year.

   Every two hours, samples are taken from the flour packing line and a variety of bake tests are conducted.

   The company has three baking technicians to service customers encountering problems while baking. “We receive a fair number of contacts,” Mr. Fuentes said. “But the problem is almost never with the flour. We test the flour, so we are confident it will perform. With the tropical climate, the problems are almost always related to changes in weather and fermentation problems that are corrected with changes in the yeast.”

   Other equipment in the baking laboratory include a Hobart batter mixer for cake, a Metro proofer and a Vulcan oven. Because the lab is air conditioned, Mr. Fuentes also proofs product in a non-air-conditioned corridor just outside the room. Again, the intent is to simulate the environment of the mill's customers.