OctoberFeast's Old-Style Rye

Categories: Bread
Jonathan Kauffman
OctoberFeast's old-style rye.
A weekly survey of bread in San Francisco ― the baked and the fried, the artisan and the novelty.

Old-Style Rye
Source: OctoberFeast Bakery, 1954 University (at Milvia), Berkeley
Toast-appropriateness: 1/10

"It's kind of an extreme bread," says Dennis, the owner of OctoberFeast Bakery, when I called to ask about the bread I'd bought. Dennis, a German-born guy who missed German breads so much he returned to Munich to study traditional Bavarian baking, has been doing the farmers' market circuit since 2002, often wearing lederhosen to catch people's attention. The counter at his tiny bakery in downtown Berkeley is covered in meticulously twisted pretzels, but if you look up at the shelves behind, you'll see giant, five-pound rounds of dark-brown bread and wedges of precut doughs.

OctoberFeast's old-style bread is dense, nut-brown, aromatic, and much moister than you'd expect. Made with 85 percent rye flour, the bread is leavened with natural yeasts. "It takes between 18 and 20 hours to rise," Dennis says, "and then the next day we start making it. The baking takes more than an hour, and once we pull the loaves out of the oven, they must sit for half-a day. When they cool down, they need time for the flavor to develop." He says the shelf life of his breads is 7-10 days. And indeed, I left the loaf I bought out on the counter over the weekend, then sliced into it again on Monday to find it hardly changed.

The old-style rye is an extreme bread, dense enough to cut into thin slices. It's the kind of bread that you take a bite of, then bring back to your nose just to smell ― the rye's aroma of grain-husk and loam; the rumbling, tarry sweetness of the molasses; the phantom notes of allspice, fennel, and caraway, none of which are in the dough but seem to be enfolded into its complex scent.

It's a bread that wants to be covered in runny cow's milk cheese and crisp apples, or pickled herring and shaved onions. Dennis adds that his peasant breads are much healthier than those crusty, light French and Italian breads that go stale in a day. "I have customers who lose weight just by switching bread," he says. "They don't go on a weight loss diet, they just eat my bread."

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