I really think it's the chunks of grain getting boiled. It happened to me a couple of times when I first started all-grain, and at the advice of homebrewers at the time (this was like 6 or so years ago), ever since I started vorlaufing, I haven't had the problem again, so I really think it makes a difference. And after a couple of botched batches those many years ago, I don't really care to run experiments skipping vorlaufing to confirm definitively whether it makes a difference!
Sorry, I don't know much about mesh size with different materials. I can tell you that I buy grain sacks from Northern Brewer and they've been good. Mesh size seems to have gotten finer over time. The bags I bought 6 years ago have a rougher mesh than the ones I bought last year, which have a very very fine mesh, probably most appropriate for BIAB which has become very popular over the past year or so. But mesh size doesn't seem to make any difference in quality, as long as you vorlauf. If you want to skip the vorlauf, well then... I don't know.