At 10 a.m. on a sunny autumn morning, I find myself in a meeting room at Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, the St. Peter’s of whole-grain, stone-ground natural goodness in Milwaukie, just south of Portland.
I’ve joined a group of other whole grain enthusiasts for a tour, and though we don’t know each other, we share a sense of excitement. As with other devotees of Bob’s product, I have a passionate appetite for carbs. I want to learn how Bob Moore and his wife, Charlee, grew a simple milling operation into a 500,000-square-foot facility employing 440 people in the production of 369 different products — some with gluten, some without.
Before arriving at the factory, I had left my wife Kathy at the nearby Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store, which includes a restaurant and bakery. She seeks Wi-Fi, breakfast and a place to prop a foot recovering from surgery. A chef herself, she grabs a seat next to the demonstration kitchen, where guest chefs conduct monthly cooking classes. Little do we know that she is front and center for a cooking demo by the famous Bob Moore himself later that morning.
At the factory our “grain guide” Christie Coykendall likes stories and tells our tour group how the two Moores married his love of machinery and old-world milling with her love of natural foods to start Moore’s Flour Mill near Redding, California in 1978. They attempted to retired north to Oregon, but Moore couldn’t resist buying another mill in Milwaukie.
Bob’s uses quartz buhr stones imported from France to slowly grind grains from all over North America, at low temperatures, into cereals and flours and more. From amaranth to freekeh to wheat berries, the shelves of the store groan in testament.
Bob and Charlee are a testament to perseverance. After a devastating arson fire at their Oregon mill in 1988, they cleared the ashes and rebuilt. Charlee is now retired, but Bob, at 87-plus, is going strong.
Not all tours are created equal, but Bob’s is a gem. Even the kids in the group seem excited to watch 10-grain cereal filling huge plastic bags and to watch employees moving pallets around a spotless production floor. Coykendall points out how clean things are, in a “place that makes dust (i.e. flour),” and how the factory earned a 97 percent score in a recent food safety audit.
She is telling us about the gluten-free product line when my phone buzzes in my pocket. A text from my wife reads, “Bob is standing right next to me! You’re missing the oatmeal demo!”
I rush back to the cafe, where Moore stands behind the stove, gently stirring a pot of steel cut oats. Steel cut oats from Bob’s, prepared in 2009 by Matthew Cox, won the Golden Spurtle (named for the wooden stirring stick used in making porridge) at the World Porridge Making Championship in Carrbridge, Scotland.
Bob is practicing with one of his myrtle spurtles in preparation for a return trip. He scoops finished oats into a small bowl and sets it between Kathy and me. “Nothing but oats, water and salt,” he says and returns to the stove.
This is really good oatmeal. Worthy, I reckon, of another spoonful — and another Golden Spurtle, which he won for a second time in October 2016.
Visit Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store, Restaurant & Bakery at 5000 Southeast International Way in Milwaukie.