A new café has opened its doors at Winchester City Mill, with the help of one special ingredient – stoneground flour that has been milled on site for over one thousand years.
Benham’s Bakehouse, set in the heart of the mill, bakes its own bread, cakes and shortbreads, and many other items, using some of the 250 kilos of flour the mill produces weekly, just a few metres away.
Everything baked on site is served in its café, from where visitors can enjoy watching the baker at work as they tuck into a freshly made breakfast, lunch or an afternoon treat.
The café, opened as part of Read Bread Week, is named after the Benham family, who were the last owners to mill here commercially, from 1820 until the early 1900s. It was saved from demolition and rescued by the National Trust in 1928. In 2014, the mill was under threat again, this time due to the floods that swept the country. Thanks to support from visitors and the local community, over £90,000 was raised to help restore the building, at a total cost of £300,000.
Claire Skinner, Winchester City Mill’s manager, said: “This feels like the final piece of the jigsaw; to be able to offer our visitors food that’s been freshly baked here, using our very own flour. It’s quite amazing, and our visitors are loving the experience!
“The production process is extremely environmentally friendly; 100 per cent of the energy used to drive the machinery comes from the force of the water roaring beneath the mill – it’s a fantastic example of ‘living history’, and how our industrial heritage and centuries-old methods of harnessing power can still play a role in the world today.”
Bread is a speciality at the mill, and the café uses its own unique sourdough starter, ‘Frederick Benham’. Karl Prentice, catering manager: “Bread starters absorb yeasts from the atmosphere, so having our very own sourdough starter gives our bread a unique flavour and taste. It also gives us complete control over what goes into our bread – all our loaves are leaven without artificial additives.”
Winchester City Mill’s Benham’s Café offers a breakfast menu featuring ‘feel good’ foods such as Mill granola with fresh fruit compote, vegan croissants and homemade sourdough toast and preserves. The menu reflects seasonal changes too, its winter lunch choices including warm soups, breads, local cheeses and toasties served with fresh salads and pickled beets.
The mill works closely with local suppliers to incorporate the best quality locally produced ingredients. Its new sharing platters feature cheeses from Salisbury-based family business Lyburn – their traditional hard cheese compliments the mill’s fresh frittata and salad platter. Hot smoked trout is produced by local business ChalkStream, sourced from Hampshire’s famous Test and Itchen rivers.
Winchester City Mill is one of Britain’s oldest surviving working watermills that still produces flour today. Over 140kg of its wholemeal stoneground flour is also sold to visitors and local businesses every week – something the mill has done since 2004 when it was restored to full working order by the National Trust, with the help of millwright and engineer Ian Clark.
“It’s a real privilege to come to the mill every week and make fresh flour in the way millers have done here for centuries,” says volunteer miller Bob Goodwin. “It’s a very rare thing, possibly unique, to be producing flour on a site with a history of milling dating back 1,000 years. Visitors find the process fascinating to watch, especially children – they love watching the wheels turning and the flour rushing out of the chute into the bags.
“This wonderful piece of Winchester’s heritage is very much alive and kicking, still supplying the people of the city with fresh flour after all these years.”
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