If you are accustomed to buying flour in the USA, you will encounter some unusual products when you peruse the baking aisle of a grocery store in Italy. The first thing you might notice is the packages are much smaller than in America. And then there is the milling process and wheat berry type to consider.
For one thing, you will have a lot more choices in the grinding of the wheat berry: the names 00 and 0 Flour refer to specifically Italian milled flour that is used for pasta making. You will find that this is also called Doppio Zero, just meaning double zero.
The grading system is 2, 1, 0 or 00 and indicates to how finely ground the flour is and how much of the bran and germ has been removed. 2 for instance is a wholemeal flour while 00 is the most refined of the three and has the lowest level of bran. It is similar to unbleached all purpose/plain flour, which is a mix of hard and soft wheat, and though while finer, it creates a dough that is silkier and maintains a chewiness when the pasta is cooked.
If you are looking for pasta, bread flour or baking flour, 00 will work for all and you can substitute 00 flour if you run out mid way through pasta making with just plain old high-grade flour. Again this has been refined more so than standard flour making it higher in protein. Pizza dough is perfect with single 0 flour but again it is interchangeable.
The French grade their flours as well with a similar system.
To make life more confusing the terms hard and soft get used to also explain flours so to try and put it simply:
Low Protein + Low Starch + Low Gluten = soft flour – 00 flour or high grade flour – use this for pasta, pizza and cakes as you would any high grade flour
High Protein +High Starch + High Gluten = hard flour – semolina flour or standard flour – perfect for bread doughs and most other uses.
Italian millers will also combine different wheat varieties to make flour to suit different purposes. So you can buy a ‘00’ flour suitable for pasta with a very golden color, and a ‘00’ flour suitable for plain white bread.
The packaging will usually suggest what items you can make with any particular flour to get the best result.
For those looking for additional info, here you go:
Bake the same recipe in the same way with 00 flour and with stong white flour and you will see that the 00 loaf is flatter and the crumb has holes that are different sizes and are not evenly distributed.
Bake the same recipe in the same way with 00 flour and with strong white flour that has been stone milled and you will see that the 00 loaf is white white white and the stone ground loaf is a bit beige.
This is because the stone milling mills for whole meal flour first grind and then and seive it to separate the bran and the germ. Industrially milled flour (of whatever strength) has the bran and the germ milled out at a very early stage because industrial millers want white flour.
The lesson is that if you want the very white, soft, holey bread from your childhood you need to get the flour from your childhood.
The big difference, in addition to texture and look, is that the stone ground white flour is higher in the naturally found nutrients because the white flour absorbs some of the nutrients from the bran and the germ before they are seived off. Industrially milled flour is rather bereft of these nutrients because the bran and the germ are removed so early in the process. For a more comprehensive discussion about this, please click here.