How is a cook to decide among the 30 different kinds of tortilla chips in the snack aisle — white, yellow, red, multigrain, blue, seasoned with lime, chiles, in a befuddling range of shapes and sizes?
I’ll make it easy — Whole Grain Milling Tortilla Chips. They taste like real corn — slightly sweet, toasty and nutty — and they’re salted just right. They are sturdy and crunchy, not oily or dense. Both the yellow and blue chips are great straight out of the bag, make sturdy scoops for salsa and guac, and stand up to layers of beans and cheese in nachos.
Whole Grain Milling, in Welcome, Minn., grows the corn (as well as other grains) and processes, packages and distributes the chips from its plant down the road. It’s the first and only farm-to-chip operation in the state and one of the few in the country.
The company founders, Doug and Lin Hilgendorf, farm a special hybrid variety of high-lysine corn that provides a better quality protein than most.
The farm is on land that has been in Doug Hilgendorf’s family for several generations and was certified organic in 1989. Though his predecessors had tried using fertilizers and pesticides for a couple of years, Hilgendorf didn’t like the impact they had on the soil.
“Those chemical inputs turned the rich, dark-brown earth into dry, gray, dead-looking dirt. We returned to organic methods and never looked back,” he said.
Whole Grain Milling also processes the farm’s popcorn and mills its own corn, oats, buckwheat and rye into different flours and cereals. The family operation has grown to include sons Jeff and Ross, and son-in-law Curt Gwin. The chip processing plant, in nearby Trimont, Minn., began production in 2015.
“It was a steep learning curve,” Hilgendorf said about moving production from a Denver processor. “Getting the cooked corn mixture just right took us some time.”
Whole Grain Milling High Lysine Yellow Corn seed comes from a local seed breeder, and is non-GMO.
“The blue corn is grown in northern Minnesota, along the border of North Dakota. Because blue is a dominant variety, we can’t grow both on the same land,” he said.
Whole Grain Milling products are available in all area co-ops and grocery stores. Order a sandwich from Birchwood Cafe, as well as many other spots, and you may find Whole Grain Milling chips alongside.
The blue corn tortilla chips, in 14-ounce size bags, and the high lysine yellow chips, in 1-pound bags, retail for about $4.50.
“The blue are thinner and lighter,” Hilgendorf noted, explaining the difference in packaging.