Nov 4, 2018
By Peter Posert
It’s easy to smile while eating out in Paris, along St Germain in a noisy bistro with the tuxedoed waiter and all. I found myself there not too long ago, doing just that, but I wasn’t smiling about what you’d imagine. I was thinking about our sourdough breads back home!
Same thing around the Boqueria in Barcelona this past spring. I’ve tried plenty of breads in New Orleans and New York and Napa and every time its the same. I think “Nope, we have the best bread right in Sonoma County!”
I’m a little smug about our local Sonoma County bakeries and our sourdough bread. Still, I have come to the conclusion that what elevates these international hot spot’s breads is their outstanding butters that go along with them. In the past few years though, there has been a profusion of new local butters. So I called the crew together recently to test them out: A thorough Sonoma County bread and butter tasting, just to see.
We made a plan, a great mission if you will, one recent Saturday. Each one of us set out in different direction to gather breads and butters and then rendezvoused back at Anne’s in Rincon Valley. Visiting the bakeries filled the cars with the delicious aromas of yeast and dough and life was good.
The butters were a bit harder to gather. A few of the butters were only available at farmers markets and far flung creameries on off days, it took a while, but thankfully most could be procured at specialty groceries like Oliver’s, Whole Foods and local independent grocers.
When all the breads and butters arrived, we plunked everything down on the dining room table like kids reviewing their Halloween haul. Then we all stood around asking “what do we do now?”
It was as quiet as the Smart train on the backside of Penngrove. Then, one by one, we ran our long serrated bread knifes down across the breads, just listening, just thinking about each bread’s “crunch.” Long discussions ensued.
Things got heated. Was #6 as crunchy as #3 just was? Was it louder? Was it cracklier? Were there more crumbs? Tasters had favorites. Butter knives got waved around - and we are all friends! There was a lot of “discussions” and, of course, a lot of laughter. It was important business for people like us…
In the broad tasting, there were a few revelations. We think the heavier the bread’s flavor the chewier the crust. The lighter flavored breads had the flakier and crunchier crust. We all had favorites, of course, but there were some universal classics. With the butters, the word “revelations” doesn’t even begin to cover what we found. Check it out…
By far, the most delicious, aggressively flavored, and full bodied (and salted) butter was from the small family creamery called Achadinha. I found it all the way down at theMarin County Civic Center’s Farmers Market, but you can probably get it directly from the creamery. This is simply an outstanding butter that the whole crew found superior. Bravo!!!
The next eye-opener was Miyokos butter. It melts softly, with a dreamy full bodied flavor. Everyone knew there was one butter that was vegan, and it was pretty obvious from the view over the ramekins that this was it, it looked a little different, but the quality was simply sublime. We all are going out to the vegan section and buying some Miyokos butter pronto, and you should too. This Petaluma vegan butter was amazingly delicious.
Strauss’ salted butter would be a joy to have on any table, any time, anywhere. I have a friend with a restaurant all the way out by the white beaches of Destin who swears by it, too.
The unsalted varieties simply didn’t stand up to the salted ones in a comparative tasting, with one exception and one worthy note: Petaluma’s Spring Hill Unsalted rose above the noise and somehow was more interesting and flavorful than it’s salted variety brethren! That butter’s unique depth and power is quite an achievement. I can imagine baking or cooking with this one and being very pleased. Clover’s Organic Unsalted was a close second, being referred to as “Solid,” and “Solid” and “Solid.” This is really good butter, tested against 11 others.
There were so many great breads: Costeaux, Wild Flour, Franco- American, Basque and BurtonNZ.
The Goguette from Santa Rosa was out of this world, with a spectacular depth of flavor and a strong crunch. It was universally hailed as one of the top 3 flavor-wise, making it a clear winner for overall quality.
BurtonNZ up in Windsor also created a standout sourdough bread. It had more air pockets and that gave the bread a lighter texture, so the fantastic flavors were elevated.
Village Bakery in Sebastopol and Della Fattoria’s seeded sourdoughs were worthy breads. The Village Bakery’s seeded sourdough had depth and richness with a lingering long finish of simply yummy sour flavor. Della Fattoria’s seeded sourdough was outstanding and rich, with a lingering toasted seed finish that is satisfying to the heart. I’m switching to seeded sour whenever I see it now.
Franco-American’s extra sour bread was worth mentioning. It had the flakiest and crispiest crust and a very good flavor. While it didn’t have the depth of some of the others like the seeded varieties, the crust is absolutely what we look for. We just want crumbs of Franco American bread all over us in the car on the way home from this Santa Rosa bakery, right?
Tasting them all together was fabulously fantastically fun! 12 butters and 14 breads all at once -168 combinations! How better to spend an afternoon than eating the best breads in the world and up-and-coming butters with friends and family, munching and laughing and feasting with our local bounty. We are simply and utterly and humbly thankful to live around such wonderful culinary artisans in Sonoma County, folks who pour their all into their breads and butters for us. We are blessed by them all and grateful beyond measure.
The Rive Gauche’s bread? Yeah, it’s ok. But all I really need in the world is a hunk of Goguette bread smothered with Achadinha butter, a glass of local bubbly (next month’s tasting!), and a fun loving group of friends to go Sonoma County Bounty tasting with me right here at home.
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