Not! I may be blasé (sometimes) about the differences between cane sugar and beet sugar, between high-end grand cru chocolates and the chocolates you can buy at the supermarket, but when it comes to corn meal I get animated. Simply put, you need the best quality stuff you can find. And when I say “best quality” I mean stone ground, ideally from an old-school grist mill of the kind you find in national parks and those historic restoration villages.
Why am I so particular about corn meal? Because there’s no corn meal like fresh meal ground slowly between stones from whole kernels of dried corn. Though you may not realize it, the corn meal you find in supermarket packages is not only stale, it’s ground from only the endosperm of the kernel, the oily germ having been pinched off by steel rollers.
What difference does that make? A lot. Because the germ contains the oil and the oil is where much of the corn flavor is. So why then do large commercial mills remove it? Preservation. As I mentioned in a previous post, dried corn kernels will keep for years — so long as you don’t grind them. For grinding releases the oil which, being liquid, goes rancid after a few short weeks on the shelf.
This is why even some of the better-quality packaged whole grain corn meals are suspect. Who knows how long they’ve been on the shelf losing precious flavor? Nope, much as I like to make fun of ingredient purists of various types, I am a purist about this. If you want to produce moist, rich-tasting corn breads and puddings of the kind our great-parents enjoyed, you literally have to go back to their sources: old mills. They’re the only places to find the whole kernel, low-volume meals that provide that real, old-school flavor and texture.
Here in Kentucky we’re lucky enough to have a few of the old water-powered grist mills still in operation. Their products can be found in area specialty shops. If you don’t have convenient access to a source like that, fresh-milled corn meal from real live grist mills can be had online. Buy it in a small quantity and either use it right away or store it in a plastic bag in the freezer where it will stay fresh the longest. Oh, and if you’re a fan of whole wheat (whole meal) flours, you’ll want to store them the same way, because the same rules apply. End of communication!