The mouth-watering aroma of freshly baked bagels was overwhelming as a small group of visitors entered the baking technology centre at the Canadian International Grains Institute in Winnipeg this week.
The man at its hub was quick to point out the trays of round, lightly browned pastries coming out of the ovens were "real bagels."
"Not something that's shaped like a bagel like you find at (name of popular coffee chain)," Tony Tweed said with the authority of someone who has spent a lifetime researching the subject.
At 70, CIGI's iconic head baker is as passionate as ever about what it takes to make high-quality bread products, and how Canadian-grown ingredients can help make that happen.
He should know. The British-born and -trained craft baker was hired to set up CIGI's baking technology centre when the institute was formed in 1972.
He's spent the past 40 years working with customers on the technical aspects of products, travelling to dozens of countries as well as helping teach the 38,000 or so participants in the more than 1,400 technical courses CIGI has offered.
CIGI's staff has grown to 35, a group that collectively can boast some of the world's best technical expertise when it comes to understanding the finer points of milling, baking and processing quality.
Tweed was familiar with the high quality of Canadian bread wheats long before he was recruited in the mid-1960s to establish Canada's first commercial baking school at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.
"I worked with a lot of Canadian wheat flour in England. Everybody knew that if you were making good biscuits, you used Australian flour, and if you wanted to make good bread, you used Canadian flour," he said.
But what he learned about upon his arrival at CIGI, and what he has conveyed to customers ever since, is the infrastructure that is behind that quality -- everything from variety registration to farm practices to clean handling and quality segregation systems to a skilled team of troubleshooters that helps processors sort out technical glitches.
"There are still the customers who tell us there are two problems with Canadian wheat," he says. "The moisture content is too high, and it's too expensive. But they want it."
He now has colleagues within the organization who are equally expert when it comes to noodle-making ingredients and processes, Asian steam breads and processing pulse crops into food ingredients.
"You are really selling Canadian grain, but you are also selling Canada -- clean air, fresh water, nice people, and the systems are honest here," Tweed said. "It is a very unique place to work. Where else do you get to meet people from all these different cultures? You are working with the Japanese this week and the Sudanese next week."
A few floors down, pasta-extruding researcher Peter Frolich is looking for ways to persuade North Americans to eat more nutritionally dense pulse crops such as peas, lentils and beans. In some parts of the world, it's as simple as mixing them with rice or making a paste.
But Canadians are partial to snack foods.
Frolich held up what looks like a puffed cheese snack.
"I can make a Cheeto-like product that has high protein, high fibre, folate minerals and vitamins that has the same mouth-feel," he said.
"I think in the next five to 10 years, these flours will be added ingredients to many if not all the foods processed in Canada," Frolich said. But first, companies need to know it can be done, and secondly, how to do it.
As supporters of the Canadian International Grains Institute gathered to celebrate 40 years of its remarkable history this week, they were looking forward to a future that contains no small measure of uncertainty.
The organization set up to soft-sell Canadian grains, oilseeds and later pulses is looking for new ways to finance its operations; it will be working with new clients as grain companies step up to fill the marketing role previously filled by the Canadian Wheat Board and, if the City of Saskatoon has its way, it will be moving lock, stock and barrel to another province.
Tweed is looking forward, too -- to retirement at the end of this month. He's seen three generations of technical experts come through his lab, witnessed an explosive growth in the sophistication of milling technology, and watched the rise of many a culturally differentiated bread product.
But processors still need to know their ingredients and how to work with them if they are to deliver the quality their customers demand. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .