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Old-school sourdough bread?

I thought it would be fun to get some old-fashioned San Francisco sourdough for a crab feed, but was surprised to find that they had none at Berkeley Bowl West, and at Safeway the one brand that was in an old-fashioned paper bag had a plastic bag inside that.

Does anyplace in the East Bay have the real thing, or even an artisan version, or do I just give up and go with Acme Italian? I knew this stuff was nearly extinct, but I didn't know things had gone this far.

Please don't tell me to buy something in a plastic bag and heat it up.

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  1. The only place I can think of is Boudin at Oakland International Airport. Going to SF might be faster although no toll going to OAK.

    5 Replies
    1. re: ML8000

      Is it really true that the only place to buy Boudin in the East Bay is at Oakland Airport? I find that a little hard to believe.

      1. re: DavidT

        Looks like that is true DavidT. Unless Boudin is available in retail outlets somewhere (I don't recall seeing it in supermarkets) then this looks to be correct.

        1. re: DavidT

          There is a Boudin bakery/cafe in Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, if that's helpful.

            1. re: Mick Ruthven

              Yeah, but none in the East Bay, unless you count Walnut Creek, which I don't, and anyway it's even less convenient than SF for me.

              The list doesn't include Oakland airport, has that closed?


        2. Coincidently I saw some today at Seabreeze Market in the Berkeley Marina. Gotta be authentic ... they sell clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. I was thinking that was a nice-looking classic sourdough round. You might ask if you can buy the bread without soup.

          Along that line, maybe Spenger's fish market has some.

          I've seen it occasionally at Grocery Outlet in Oakland. There is some bakery that usually sells baguettes in paper bags ... I forget the name but they are the only one ... and every now and then there is sourdough. Haven't tried either though and with GO it is with the blessing of the food gods if it is there.

          14 Replies
          1. re: rworange

            I happened to be at the Berkeley GrocOut while the Colombo delivery guy was there. The only bread in paper bags was the idiotic "Double Wrap," i.e., they waste a paper bag by putting it over a plastic bag. He said he didn't know of anyplace that gets it in paper only.

            Seabreeze had nothing. Their shelves were pretty empty.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              It is not Columbo, but some other bakery I'm not familiar with from the South Bay, I believe. Did you lookat the section next to the soup pots at Seabreeze They had an acrylic bin with whole sourdough rounds.

              I'm not a big fan of Bordenave's but it is much better than Boudin off the shelf and comparable to some of the old school breads once sold. Get the extra sour though if available. I suspect Bread Garden may be the better bread... but again I haven't tried it. Will have to get up that way and give it a try ... as well as a last look.

            2. re: rworange

              Thanks for the tip, the Oakland GrocOut had a Wedemeyer loaf that looks and smells right. It even has the little bumps on the bottom, which I had forgotten about. I'll give it a try with dinner tonight and report.


              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I thought the wide Wedemeyers was really good. Still not totally it, but probably my favorite of the old companies still producing bread. Parkside Market also carries it.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  The Wedemeyer was OK, not as good as the Bordenave.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Thanks for taking the bullet. I have had Wdemeyer on my to-try list for a long time but either it was too late in the day and the loaf had turned to rock or I was avoiding bread.

                    My suspicions were right. Bread Garden has the absolute best sourdough I've had in a long, long time.

                    They will slice it ... which always makes me happy. When I got to the car I had a slice. Opening the bag I was overcome with the wonderful sour tangy aroma. The crust nicely chewy, the crumb classic. IMO, better than Raymonds which doesn't have enough sour for my tastes.

                    This begged for crab. I was in no mood to fuss with a carcass. A light went off .. this bread was crying for the crab salad from Sea Breeze.

                    Alas, the crab salad means a big green salad with a scoop of crab. They only sell the crab salad like that or in a sandwich. I stated my case ... they had the best crab salad I've ever had and I had the perfect bread. Could they please, please sell me a small deli container. I flattered them, I insulted their roll. No Easy Rider moment here. They sold me the pure pristine salad. My profound thanks.

                    Opening the crab salad was another orgasmistic olifactory experience. It smelled of crab at it's freshest ... of all that is good about seafood.

                    So I made my sandwich ... crab, sourdough and a bit of ground pepper. A bottle of Anchor Steam to complete the meal.

                    Beer, bread, crustacean ... classic, simple, old-time San Francisco at its best. I closed my eyes and took a trip back to the glorious culinary past.

                    .... and I don't even like Dungeness that much. Greatness though is greatness.

                    Thank you, Robert for starting this thread. I nominate my own sandwich as one of my top ten tastes of 2009.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        The only negative is they don't sell rounds. They only sell baguettes, round rolls and loaves ... which worked out swell for my sandwhich ... . They said on Saturday they sell large rounds of a sour country bread that you can buy chunks of. It isn't classic sourdough though. It sounds interesting.

                        I asked for an update about closing. No updates. It seems like the decision won't be made until after the holidays and the owner is being tight-lipped about any more info. Even if they do leave/realocate they will stay until the end of their lease in early summer 2010. I hope they stay in Berkeley. I need to get up there more often and throw more business their way.

                        BTW, there's some sort of open house at Peet's next week on Saturday from 11 - 1. Lots of samples and stuff.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Bread Garden doesn't make what I'm looking for.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I forgot to mention. I was over at Berkeley Grocery Outlet today and they had whole loaves of Columbo extra sourdough bread. The paper bag boasted it was 'double-bagged'. You just can't put sourdough in a plastic bag. It compromises the crust and changes the whole character of the loaf. Didn't even look at the ingredient list when I saw that. I just walked on by.

                          1. re: rworange

                            Yeah, that's what I mentioned in my first post. Wonder / Hostess sells only bagged bread, and gives a bogus nod to nostalgia for the local brands it assimilated by sticking a paper bag on top of plastic.

                          2. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I'll be interested in your opinion of Bread Garden. They have such a history of bread in the east bay. I may be wrong on these exact details...but when they opened mid-70's I think it was only Cheese Board that was making a baguette when they started theirs or maybe the other way around. But for a very long time I know they were the source for great baguettes and have done lots of interesting breads over the years not available elsewhere like salt rising bread. On another note... I was at Lucky's today and passed a little stand with par-bake/half-bake loaves but the interesting thing was the label was "Larraburu" which I thought was long gone. I turned it over and it's made by Boudin. I've never noticed it before.

                            1. re: cakebaker

                              >not available elsewhere like salt rising bread<

                              I know this thread is about sourdough, but I've been looking for good salt rising bread for a long time. The one time I got a loaf of it from the Bread Garden I found it a shadow of the kind I grew up with, giving me the opinion that they really didn't know what salt rising bread was supposed to be.

                          3. re: rworange

                            This post reminded me of another bread memory...the little kiosk of sorts that used to me in the Cannery in the 70's/80's. They made only huge crab sandwiches with crab, a little mayo and thick slices of sourdough and that's it. Your sandwich reminded me of that.

                    1. Oh wait ... I know, I know ... Bread Garden

                      You might call to see if they are still open. They were thinking of closing at the end of the year and the website link seems to be gone. I do mention seeing sourdough there in this endless report

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rworange

                        The Bread Garden is still open as of this week, and I'm pretty sure it will be open through the end of the year. The owner is considering whether or not to renew the lease; he'd like to relocate to somewhere with more traffic, but I don't think anything's been decided.

                      2. Trying to understand...

                        By "old-school sourdough bread," do you mean sourdough that is made from airborne SF flora? In contrast to "manufactured" sourdough that has the lactobacillus and c. milleri added in the form of a powder, or even sourdough that gets its sourness from added vinegar?

                        Why would something like Acme not be OK? To be sure, a lot of what is claimed to be SF sourdough is actually hype.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          the s.f. sourdough I ate 35-40 years ago, (I timed my visits to the corner groceries within six blocks of our flat acc. to the delivery schedule of the bakeries, which incl. Larraburu) if that's considered old school, had a simpler flavor profile than Acme--their flour was probably more refined and commercial in nature, would be my guess.

                        2. Spenger's take out is a good suggestion to try. I was going to say that Boudin is the only one I can think of but not in the east bay of course. However, when I was cutting up Acme Italian last week for stuffing I had a flashback to the taste of the sourdough rounds that used to be on every supermarket shelf that are no more. I was surprised as I hadn't had it for some time that it was so familiar. I know what you mean...it is a little sad to see those loaves wrapped in plastic. We have such an abundance of bread in the bay area I forget how special those loaves were.

                          1. Is Scoma's bread the type of flavor and texture your looking for? Would it be considered "old school"?

                            1. I mean the stuff every supermarket used to have 25 varieties of, like Boudin still makes for old-school restaurants like Tadich and Sam's.

                              Like I said, I could go with Acme Italian. It's not as sour as the old stuff was but it's the same basic idea. I can swing by Spenger's on the way to Acme.

                              41 Replies
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Spenger's fish market sells Bordenave's Sour dark bake delivered daily. I always forget about Bordenave in San Rafael. Fyi...Tadich used to serve Parisian and when they went out of business, Boudin bakes a special dark bake for them that can only be purchased from Tadich's. I don't know of any other source for Bordenave's bread in the east bay so Spengers may be the only source for that style bread without crossing a bridge.

                                1. re: cakebaker

                                  How is Bordenave's? I got to Spenger's too early (store opens at 11:30) but saw bags of their Extra Sour on the counter.


                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I think Bordenave's is good and certainly the type we've been talking about. They sell both extra sour longs and round loaves to Spenger's. Only the longs are delivered daily and the rounds every few days so check when you are there. My actual favorite bread with crab is Tartine's country loaf but that involves a level of effort that I seldom can make.

                                    1. re: cakebaker

                                      Gave Sea Breeze a call and it turns out they are using Bordenave. Just for future refrenece they will sell the bread without the soup. They open at 7am, so that could be convenient. Cakebaker makes a good point about asking when it was deliviered

                                      I should mention my Bordenave experience was only with the sourdough rolls.

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        According to Bordenave's...Spenger's is the ONLY place to find their dark extra sour loaves in the East bay available on a retail level. The deliver to Andronico's (baguettes only) and Ratto's (rolls only). Re: the sour long loaves vs. the 1lb rounds...I'd stick with the long loaves as I said previously is delivered daily. Spenger's gets the rounds...large and small (for chowder) infrequently and they suggested hitting it on the counter to see if it was fresh...so I'd stick with the longs. They also said that they and Boudin's are the only bakeries left in the bay area baking old style sourdough.

                                        1. re: cakebaker

                                          Thanks. I called Spenger's and they said the store is open 11am-6pm daily. I'll try to pick up a loaf and do a taste-off against the Acme Italian and sour batard I bought this morning.

                                          We should probably nominate SF sourdough for the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Just drove over to Spengers and I need to revise some of what I told you. Inexplicably and contrary to the info the bakery gave me...the sour round you saw in the window is the one I'd buy. Even though Bordenave's told me same dark bake..same extra sour..the batards and the large rounds appear very different crust wise. Spenger's said they think they get just a few of the large rounds every day with their other delivery and it did appear really fresh which it wouldn't if it was delivered every few days. However, to replicate the old style sourdough I'd only get the rounds. See what you think if you go but they looked very different to me. I was going to suggest you get an Acme Italian just in case but you've already done that.

                                            1. re: cakebaker

                                              Next time I'm in the city, I'm going to buy a loaf from Tadich's to compare the dark bake done for them with Tartine's country. While Bordenave's is no question the only old style sourdough available in the east bay...I'm not sure it's quality is that of Acme's memories aside. When I think of this type of bread it brings to mind an almost black very sharp crust with a pronounced sour taste. As I mentioned before i think Tartine's comes as close to that memory as I have found albeit the most difficult bread to obtain. This has been interesting as I hadn't thought of it in years but this type of bread evokes many memories and as you noted in your original post...it's all but gone.

                                              1. re: cakebaker

                                                Tartine's bread isn't all that sour, and the crumb is much moister, partly because the loaves are so big.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I agree Tartine's isn't really sour although I've had some sour loaves from them but the crust is the darkest and the most similar to the old style sourdough in my opinion. It's very hard to find any bread with a truly dark crust that shatters like the old loaves used to be. Although as I said in the outset of this, Acme's Italian i think comes closest in flavor to Sf sourdough.

                                                  1. re: cakebaker

                                                    So, is that why I love Tartine bread so much, because it aligns most closely with the ur-loaf of sourdough imprinted on my psyche from earliest childhood? & here I thought it was Objectively Good ;)

                                                    This thread is going to make me keel over from sheer nostalgia! You guys are killing me! Late Bake, Dark Bake... I'm gonna cry!

                                                2. re: cakebaker

                                                  Tadich bake isn't what I consider a late bake or dark bake. My memory of SF sourdough is the same as you describe and I've not had that for years. Tourists used to scuff up the roofs of their mouths from eating it.

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    I'm going by what I was told by Tadich. When Parisian went out of business, Boudin after some trial and error, started baking a special dark bake for them that isn't available in their retail stores and only available at the restaurant. I didn't call Sam's so I don't know who they get their bread from.

                                                    1. re: cakebaker

                                                      I don't think Tadich's is extra dark, just extra sour.

                                                      It's not pale like the crap Colombo sells.

                                            2. re: cakebaker

                                              I find the fact that Spenger's gets the rounds on a non-daily basis a bit funny but it makes sense if you're going to make chowder bowls. After one day most sourdough (at least old school stuff) is rock hard.

                                              Someone must have tried to get a second use out of day old (or hours old) and thought up the chowder in the bread bowl. I mean does anyone eat the bread bowl after the soup? (I've never gotten the bread bowl and probably never will.) Even fresh, same day stuff from Boudin on 10th Ave is a tough chew with the famous mouth cutting crust.

                                              I use to get Boudin at 10th Ave when I lived out there but now I don't know why. I guess it was easy. Acme sour, while not old school, is so much better and easier to live with.

                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                I'd be interested in a more detailed discussion about how exactly the old style sourdough bread is different. Is it stronger? more assertive? more yeasty? natural yeast? types of flour? longer baked? Only certain shapes?

                                                Some of us are in the dark.

                                                1. re: boris_qd

                                                  Aren't dark and late bake the same?

                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                    No. Dark bake refers to how carmelized the crust is and late bake refers to the last bake of the day...hence the freshest.

                                                    1. re: cakebaker

                                                      Was the Larrabaru discus that I used to buy neither just their regular bake?

                                                      1. re: cakebaker

                                                        cakebaker, you almost make me weep. I remember when every grocery store in SF had 'late bake' loaves in their paper bags

                                                    2. re: boris_qd

                                                      I haven't had old school SF sourdough for quite awhile. But yes, generally (compared to modern sourdough) it's more assertive/sour, denser (not an airy bread) and the crust can literally cut your mouth, it's tough and chewy. It's best toasted if I remember.

                                                      I'm not a baker however so specifics are beyond me. I do know the original mother yeast thrives particularly well in the foggy SF weather and is responsible for its unique taste.

                                                      Wikipedia has an okay explanation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdough

                                                      A direct comparo between different old school and modern SDs would be interesting.

                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                        I believe the distinctive "extra sour" flavor comes from less from anything special about the starter than from proofing overnight at a cool temperature.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Yes, a cool long fermentation makes a more-sour sourdough. The cool long ferm favors the heterofermentative bacteria (that put the sour in sourdough) rather than the homofermentative bacteria (that make the bread more mellow).

                                                      2. re: boris_qd

                                                        <<<I'd be interested in a more detailed discussion about how exactly the old style sourdough bread is different. Is it stronger? more assertive? more yeasty? natural yeast? types of flour? longer baked?>>>

                                                        Yes, me too. What did old-school sourdough makers do that
                                                        current sourdough makers are not doing?

                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                          Old-style SF sourdough had an in your face sourness to it, along with a superb crust, and a perfect crumb. Parisian was considered sub-par when I was a kid, and the stuff that Boudin cranks out is pathetic. I no longer live in the Bay Area, but feel compelled to comment as an old-timer. I believe that the only real SF sourdough today is produced by independent bakeries.

                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                            I liked Parisian. In the last year or two, we were going to NYC and made a special trip to the Boudin "spectacle" at the Wharf to take a loaf to our friends. I was embarassed. It tasted nothing like SD. I think some have mentioned that some bakeries do specific breads for certain restaurants. I just don't eat it anymore as I can get better here at Lake Tahoe, almost 200 miles away. Big sigh.

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              <<Old-style SF sourdough had an in your face sourness to it, along with a superb crust, and a perfect crumb. >>

                                                              I'm trying to get at what gave the bread its "in your face" sourness -- was it the starter itself or added vinegar?

                                                              Was it a long, cool fermentation (one that favors sourness) or something else? I've done a huge amount of research on the microbiology of sourdough, so I'm curious.

                                                              If the reason is known, could a current bakery make old-school sourdough and advertise it as such? Might be a market there.

                                                              I, too, remember sourdough that had much more tang, much more of a "bend" in the flavor. More guts, depth, all that.

                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                >I, too, remember sourdough that had much more tang, much more of a "bend" in the flavor. More guts, depth, all that.<

                                                                Very good description of what I remember. The new sourdough maker/experimenter, Danny Gabriner (http://sourflour.org), said in an email, "I have only recently gotten myself into the bread, and so probably have never had 'old-school San Francisco sourdough', although I do have a picture in my head of what it would look, feel, smell, and taste like... I am pretty surprised by the lack of long fermentations (this is my guess of what's happening) at all of the great bread places in the bay area."

                                                                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                  Interesting to hear his response, but uh... he might want to get to Tadich and find out what the bread's supposed to taste like.

                                                                  Also, there's really no such thing as "old school SF Sourdough". You're either making a sourdough, or you're making a pale substitution under the same name, and banking that many current residents don't know the difference.

                                                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                  I've been asking that question as long as I've posted on Chowhound, hoping someone will figure it out.

                                                                  Why wouldn't a baker want to figure out what technique got changed along the way, and produce an actual sourdough?

                                                                  Sourness isn't the only thing missing. It's the bake, the density, texture, pretty much everything that defines one bread from another. In other words, even if these bakeries added sourness to their current product, it would still be wrong. Bordenave, and Wedemeyer are good examples of how the other missing elements of this bread are so key.

                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                    It might be time for a sourdough revival.

                                                                    I will say the artisan bakers like Acme will not be able to pull it off even if they wanted to. The would somehow screw it up to make it 'better'.

                                                                    I have strong doubts that someone who never tasted it and only has a ' picture in my head of what it would look, feel, smell, and taste like"

                                                                    Nice sentiment, but no ... and seriously ... get over to Tadich.

                                                                    I don't know why Boudin can't just produce a "Tadich version" of sourdough. It is not like they don't make it now for Tadich

                                                                    Someone who knows jack is running Boudin. Everything there gets worse and worse.

                                                                    Take hot cross buns. They once had the standard I measured others by. Now they have dumbed it down, I guess to make it acceptable to what they have to assume is the taste-bud dead public.

                                                                    Not everyone will like everything. Put out a product to the part of the public that wants to buy the original version.

                                                                    I'm going to have to get over to Tadich soon. I have now clue why the version at Bread Garden isn't what Robert is looking for ... other than the shape. I'm going to have to buy a loaf from BG, get myself over to Tadich while either smuggling a BG piece in or a Tadich piece out and do a side by side.

                                                                    1. re: rworange

                                                                      Being in the South Bay, the only breads mentioned on this thread I have easy access to are the Acme Italian Batard and Boudin from their Valley Fair storefront. Can anyone give me a comparison between the two as far as sourness and crust?

                                                                      1. re: Humbucker

                                                                        Humbucker, unfortunately neither of your options will serve as a sourdough education. Are you asking what it's supposed to taste like?

                                                                        Try the Boudin anyway, only because it's the older of the two bakers, and it's a good place to start. I believe Wedemeyer is out of the South Bay, by the way.

                                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                                          Unfortunately, I don't think old enough to have ever experienced the old-school stuff, so I'm just looking for a good sourdough bread. A lot of the store brands aren't sour enough for my tastes.

                                                                  2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                    Definitely NOT vinegar! It must have been the starter, as none of the many other sourdoughs I've tasted is similar. (The closest you can get, I think, is at Jedediah;s House of Sourdough in Jackson Hole.)

                                                        2. re: cakebaker

                                                          I've had misinformation at Bordenave before. Raymond bakery also makes classic sourdough. They sell mainly in SF. There are other places that could be considered classic such as Thourough Bread and pastry. What can I say, Sea Breeze told me their bread was Bordenave

                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                            I bought a loaf of sourdough from Thorough a year ago. Here's what I posted then and I still remember it that way. It's a beautiful loaf of bread, I love the crust, and it has a nice sour taste. Compared to real SF sourdough from the past, I think the crust is thinner (but I like it better than the crust of the "real" stuff), the inside bread not as dense, and the taste not as sour. It's a great loaf of bread, but I don't love it like I love(ed) real SF sourdough.

                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  Have you checked Genova? They used to carry a lot of sourdough. Actually, one of my favorites is Columbo partial bake, which you can find in a lot of supermarkets. I think one of the things that makes fresh sourdough really special is the moist chewiness of it, which the partial bake seems to have more than the finished bake, since it starts to dry out the moment it comes out of the oven. Plus, it's warm. Yum.

                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                    Genova had sour loaves from Boulanger, which brags on the label that it won some San Francisco sourdough competition, and Maggiora. The Boulanger looked sort of right but didn't have the sour smell. The Maggiora didn't look or smell right.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      I've found little from Maggiora that is really good. It's not really bad either ... just like you said ... everything just doesn't look or taste exactly like what it is supposed to be. It is a notch above supermarket stuff, but only a notch.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    You might try calling Raymond's Bread to ask if their sourdough is distributed in the east bay. I can get it at Falletti's in SF.

                                                  3. banchero's Restaurant in Hayward has excellent sour sourdough and they sell it at the front desk

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: macadam

                                                      >banchero's Restaurant in Hayward has excellent sour sourdough<

                                                      Do you know where they get it?

                                                      1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                        Nope, but real sourdough. Possibly Raymonds's but haven't called. Good sourdough squishy center, and great crispy crust on the outside. A lot like Boudin, and I grew up in the city with Boudin and Larrabaru (sp?). I miss the outlet down by the floral/ produce mart where I would buy delicious rolls and baguettes for parties. Boo -hoo, so sad they are gone..

                                                        1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                          Re: Banchero's bread...it's all from Bordenave. the table bread is one type of long loaf...they use a softer one for their garlic bread and for TO GO they sell the large round "wharf" sourdough...the same one that Spenger's has in their take out market.

                                                      2. We went to the Eat Real fest in jack london Square a few months ago. There was a young man passing out samples of sourdough bread that was the real thing. He is not selling, yet, but check out his website Sourflour.com. We were able to procure several loaves from him for an event and there were raves about his bread. Can't wait to be able to purchase it retail.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: macadam

                                                          Sourflour.com goes to sourflour.blogspot.com which has nothing to do with bread. Are you sure that's his web address?

                                                        2. Oops! Maybe Sourflour.org. Guy is Danny, really friendly and the bread is dreamy. He also does bagel Mondays. Here's the link http://www.sourflour.org. Delish bread.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: macadam

                                                            I hope he tries to emulate a real sourdough, and not the new generation versions. He seems serious about it, so maybe he can go find that one person who can still bake a real sourdough for Tadich, and learn his tricks.

                                                          2. I got a loaf of Bordenave's from Spenger's. As cakebaker said, the round loaf was the most old-school, the long loaves were pale and I couldn't smell any sourness.

                                                            It was pretty good, tasted like it was fresh. Not as sour as Tadich's but definitely the real thing. I preferred the Acme Italian overall, better texture and crumb. The Acme sour batard was OK but I wouldn't buy it again.

                                                            I don't believe Spenger's uses those loaves to serve soup. They're so big it would hold half a gallon, and the menu doesn't mention that dish.

                                                            I wish I had a photo of the sourdough section at my local supermarket circa 1970. As I recall there were six or seven brands, and they all had several types (regular, extra sour, dark bake, late bake, heat-and-serve).

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              A couple of other facts I turned up:

                                                              The distinctive flavor comes from Lactobacillus San Francisco, which is available commercially, so I think the stories about special starters are legendary.

                                                              Colombo is owned by Interstate Bakeries Corp. (of Wonder and Hostess fame). So are Parisian and Toscana--I'm not sure they're currently selling anything under those labels, but their logos are on the truck.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                I remember all the sourdoughs from the early sixties on. There were distinctive differences in the taste of the different sours, and my favorite was the bread that Spengers brought to your table sliced with iced sweet butter.

                                                                Is Spengers still using the same supplier they had in the sixties (I haven't been t o Spengers in years). I remember thinking that Berkeley waterfront starter had to be the best. Nobody else ever compared to the sourdough served at those tables at Spengers in the sixties, that came with your cracked crab. That was old school, that was sou,r that was dark, and the crust could cut your gums.

                                                                1. re: eurydike

                                                                  Spenger's currently uses Bordenave, and the loaf I tried didn't match your description. Could be the same supplier they used in the 60s, or they might have changed, since almost all of the sourdough bakeries went out of business.

                                                                  1. re: eurydike

                                                                    The Bordenave loaves now available are not the same ones that the old Spengers used to serve and sell. I can almost see the old bags but can't yet place it but it is not the (to me) rather gummy loaves that Bordenave delivers. As has been previously discussed those old loaves were dark and crusty.

                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Robert, thanks for the memories. When I first came to school here at the end of the 70's, there were, as you said, several brands with at several types of sourdough. "Late Bake". . .I remember buying those at Safeway for my evening loaf. . . We have many more good bakers now, baking many more kinds of bread, but we seem to have lost a unique and very special category. My relations in the Philippines used to ask me to bring loaves of sourdough--it was that special to some people even then, and I took it for granted. Nowadays, I only eat sourdough at restaurants, afraid that I will be disappointed (ok,actually depressed) by the supermarket stuff.

                                                                3. I left the Bay Area in 1987, and one of my fondest memories of what makes San Francisco special was the sourdough bread.

                                                                  I was sorry to learn that it has become difficult to get, as when I lived there it seemed easily available (and scrumptious).

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: DrJohnEvans

                                                                    It's not too hard to get in SF proper, since Boudin has eight locations around town.

                                                                    They used to have one in Berkeley, but it closed.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      I mispoke before when I said Spenger's was the only east bay source..Boudin does have a cafe/bakery in Walnut Creek as mentioned. I'm glad you got the round loaf to try...I got the other one. I agree totally with you on all counts. Bordenave's wasn't bad and definitely what one thinks of with SF sourdough but not the crusty loaves from the past either. Until you posted this, with all the bread available now I hadn't thought of the decline of this part of San Francisco history. I too can picture shelves in the 70's with an overflow of sourdough choices and I guess I hadn't really noticed how it had changed until you started your search. I also agree with the Acme Italian..it does capture some of the elements of the old bread if not in appearance in taste memory for me. My dad was a chef and I have so many memories of Parisian delivering large crusty loaves and I hadn't thought of that for a long while so thanks for reminding me.

                                                                  2. The main Boudin bakery is on 10th and Geary, in SF. I know that it's a trek from the East Bay, but it might be worth it.

                                                                    Also, Grace Bakery is in Richmond. Although, I don't know where ... I'm just looking at the info on the wrapper. Their "sourdough pugliese" is sold at Safeway, IS NOT IN PLASTIC, and is reasonably priced. I think it's the closest thing to the "old" SF sourdough.

                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                    1. re: CatyL

                                                                      Grace Bakery Corporate Office
                                                                      3200 G Regatta Blvd
                                                                      Richmond, CA 94804

                                                                      1. re: CatyL

                                                                        That's what I had with crab last week. It wasn't bad, though not particularly crusty. Actually, I don't require that the inside of my mouth bleed when I eat sourdough.

                                                                        1. re: CatyL

                                                                          IMO, Grace Bakery is on the edge of artisan rather than old school

                                                                          1. re: CatyL

                                                                            I looked at Grace's sourdough pugliese in a store and it didn't look or, more importantly, smell right.

                                                                            1. re: CatyL

                                                                              I had some Grace Bakery today actually. Unfortunately, it just tasted like a french baguette and reminded me of Bakers of Paris.

                                                                              1. re: CatyL

                                                                                If you're in the City - biscotti by the pound too.

                                                                                French Italian Bakery
                                                                                1501 Grant Ave
                                                                                (between Nobles Aly & Union St)
                                                                                San Francisco, CA 94133
                                                                                (415) 421-3796

                                                                                1. re: bunnysitter

                                                                                  Do they make a sour sourdough? I remember their bread being bland.

                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                    They specialize in making what's called an Italian bread, and they are typically a bland, softer, bread. The French Italian bakeries version is heavy handed on the bland but it's an old style bread that will bring back memories, just not sourdough memories.

                                                                              2. To my taste, Le Boulangerie (many outlets in the South Bay) provides the classic loaf.

                                                                                1. What's your favorite old-fashioned San Francisco sourdough in SF or northern Peninsula? We'd like to get some to go with our crab fest coming up.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. Met some people for happy hour at Scott's in Jack London Square tonight. It was just exactly what you'd imagine -- not great -- but on the way out I noticed a big rack of Boudin round loaves by the door. It looked like the display at the Oakland airport. I didn't have a chance to ask how often they get fresh stuff. Anyhow, there it was.

                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Glencora

                                                                                      Thanks for the tip. 1.5-lb. regular round loaves only, $3. That's more convenient than the airport.

                                                                                      1. re: Glencora

                                                                                        I believe that Mr.Gallagher once said that he gets the breads for his 2 restaurants daily and in large amounts. I assume that Boudin must be the source of his excellent bread.

                                                                                      2. Anyone ever have Arizmendi's or Cheeseboard's sourdough? I know their stuff isn't old school and have only had their bread products a few time.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: ML8000

                                                                                          Yeah. As much as Ilike their breads, there is no tang to the sourdough.

                                                                                        2. The intense sourness of old "extra sour" loaves (as apparently still made for Tadich) comes from proofing overnight at a cool temperature, so the bread ferments longer. Any knowledgeable baker could make it provided they were in an area with ambient Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis and Candida milleri. Nobody ever used vinegar, just flour, water, salt, and some dough left over from the previous batch.

                                                                                          I think Boudin's is the same as the old regular sourdough I grew up with. It's just not as sharp as the "extra sour." I presume they stopped producing the extra sour due to lack of demand. Despite my nostalgia, I certainly don't want it very often.

                                                                                          The other night I had some sourdough made by a professionally trained home baker using a starter produced by spontaneous fermentation, i.e., ambient yeast and lacobacilli. He didn't proof it overnight, so it wasn't super-sour, but while the smell wasn't too intense, it was exactly what I grew up with.

                                                                                          53 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                            Thanks for the indirect answer about Bread Garden.

                                                                                            Not being a native San Franciscan, I never got the less sour variety. So the extra sour was my thing. I hate to mention this but The Franciscan in SF, carries the type of sourdough you are looking for. And despite my proclamation about Artisan bakers not being able to accomplish this, It is made by Acme. I'm guessing The Crab House on Pier 39 might have the same sourdough since it is part of the same restaurant group.

                                                                                            If you are ever in Forestville, you might check out the sourdough at the bakery in town. The name escapes me and Chowhound response is currently abysmal for me so I'm not going to search for the exact name. However, it is Forestville. It has to be the only bakery in town so you can find it through 'restaurants and bars''.

                                                                                            This is one of those requests I know will stick in my head for some reason or another. There is someone who wanted Entereman's devil's food cake rather than chocolate, another graham cracker request. I am still on the lookout for pineapples that are not 'gold' for you. Don't know why things like that stick. Anyway, if I see any that might meet your tastes, I'll post.

                                                                                            1. re: rworange

                                                                                              >The Franciscan in SF carries the type of sourdough you are looking for ... It is made by Acme<

                                                                                              Do you know if Acme makes that bread for general sale?

                                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                              From my discussions with the owners of Bay Area bakeries over the last two decades, I've learned that sophisticated air filtering systems keep out the special airborne SF sourdough bacteria and yeast, and any other wild yeasts or bacteria that may affect the dough.

                                                                                              In fact, in artisan bakeries, the source of the lactobacillus sanfrancencis bacteria and the candida milleri yeast is the grain itself. Rye grain is most commonly used to begin a sourdough starter -- even if the final bread is made of white flour -- because rye contains the most ppm of both the LB and yeast, which have adapted to grow especially well on rye. This is true even for a starter made at home in the Bay Area with access to the Bay Area air -- most of the sourdough bacteria and yeast come from the grain.

                                                                                              An analysis of sourdough starters from around the world by microbiologists (Michael Gänzle in 2007 and others) found that nearly all of them contained the "San Francisco" lactobacillus and yeast. So the idea that SF sourdough can only be made in the SF Bay Area is mystique -- good for business and tourism dollars, but not accurate science.

                                                                                              However, there are many techniques that bakers in the Bay Area use to develop sourness in sourdough, and -- obviously from this discussion -- could employ to a greater degree.

                                                                                              BTW, the "San Francisco" yeast candida milleri does very little to flavor or leaven the bread. It's the lactobacilli that do the work -- two types of lactobacillus. Most of sourdough's flavor and leavening come from the heterofermentative type of lactobacillus, which pumps out acetic acid (vinegar) as a by-product and favors a temp below 82-85 degrees F. The other type of lactobacillus -- homofermentative -- pumps out the more mellow lactic acid and does its thing above 82-85 degrees F.

                                                                                              So, as Rober was saying, a long cool fermentation that increases sourness. By controlling the temp of the starter, you control the type of lactobacillus that has the upper hand in fermentation, thereby controlling the final flavor of the bread.

                                                                                              Debra Wink, the co-author on a number of scientific sourdough articles,
                                                                                              sums up things nicely on her great bread baking website:

                                                                                              -- more fermentation time generally means more acid
                                                                                              -- lower temperature increases the percentage of acetic acid
                                                                                              -- lower temperatures produce acids more slowly; higher temps, more quickly
                                                                                              -- higher temperatures mean a higher ratio of lactic to acetic acid
                                                                                              -- lactobacilli prefer wetter doughs, so a wetter dough favors acidity
                                                                                              -- yeast don't seem to mind low hydration, but lactobacillus bacteria do
                                                                                              -- flour plays a big part---whole grains generally result in more acetic acid and more total acid

                                                                                              Some of the non-artisan Bay Area bakeries were reluctant to share their sourdough technique, mostly because what their advertising/marketing says is based on mystique -- which equals hefty tourism dollars -- and the old San Francisco "air" story, even though that's no longer accurate.

                                                                                              The density and even crumb of Boudin's bread in particular (cf. sugartoof's comment above) is a tip-off to me that they are not using (or using less) a starter grown from the SF bacteria/yeast combo, and instead using a powdered sourdough starter (which contains the same bacteria) and the standard baker's yeast saccharomyces cerevisiae. Perhaps vinegar also to increase the sourness.

                                                                                              A true sourdough starter will produce lots of gas bubbles (leavening), a slack wet dough, and a bread with large holes. Whereas bread made from a powdered starter and baker's yeast will have an even continuous crumb and heavy density, like Boudin's. In old-school sourdough bread manufacturing and even now, vinegar is added to create or increase sourness. That's not such a bad thing -- after all, vinegar is what the sourdough lactobacillus pumps out anyway. It's merely a shortcut. Not as artisan and certainly not as rich in mystique. But it produces a specific style of sourdough bread that's very heavy, dense and very sour.

                                                                                              Getting back to what bakeries could do now to create "old-school" sourdough:

                                                                                              -- Increase the fermentation time, and cool down the fermentation to increase the sour flavor. But the crumb will still be different from "old school."
                                                                                              -- Add powdered starter and vinegar to make a less-artisan but more sour bread.

                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                Boudin's stated ingredients are flour, water, salt, and a chunk of yesterday's dough.

                                                                                                They also say they don't make an extra-sour product, but they supply Tadich, so I guess what they mean is, they won't sell it to anyone else.


                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                  The key is what's in "yesterday's dough." This ingredient description furthers the mystique, which is essentially a deception.

                                                                                                  Many bakeries do a custom bake for individual restaurants.

                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                    Well, yeah, who knows what they're actually doing. "Each loaf ... is made with a bit of the 'Mother Dough' from the very first loaf baked in 1849," obviously that's poetic license.

                                                                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                You could always buy a lighter dull version in the form of sliced sandwich breads, rolls, etc. in supermarkets, and the consistency/crust is about the same, but to my memory, even those breads were sharper. Intensity could depend on the brand though.

                                                                                                The standard was what might be thought of as an extra-extra sour today. So the "extra sour" of yesteryear was an already sharp sour bread with a little extra. Nothing drastic. We did eat it daily, because it was just a regional flavor you grew up with. We didn't have all the choices, and bakers weren't catering to the tastes of transplants.

                                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                  The texture is ruined by putting it in plastic, and I don't want to heat it.

                                                                                                  I remember "extra sour" being way more sour than the regular sour, like the difference between Tadich's bread and regular Boudin.

                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                    You could always buy variations of sourness, but that was due to quality, not designation.

                                                                                                    Tadich is what our standard sourdough tasted like.

                                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                      Most of the sourdough brands had loaves labeled "Extra Sour" on the bag. Their regular loaves were pretty much like Boudin's today.

                                                                                                      I can't remember which brand we usually bought.

                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                        It wasn't their regular loaves, it was the mass produced lines they started to market. Until later years, their regular loaves were thick crusted, meal worthy, and sour without apology.

                                                                                                        My recollection of the sour/extra sour designation was only with a sandwich roll at a deli or buying your bread in the mass produced plastic packages you dislike. So yes, Parisian, Columbo, Francisco, and to a lesser extent, Boudin, produced packaged versions of their breads which were mild in flavor, but those breads were tagged as Sour/Extra Sour for marketing. It wasn't as if anyone would go to Cala and use that distinction to decide if they wanted an "old school Sourdough" to cut the roof of their mouth or an everyday "artisanal bake". Sourdough was sourdough. You were either buying a "french bread" or buying the sourdough sitting next to the sliced white breads such as Sunbeam, Remar, Kilpatrick's, etc.

                                                                                                        Larraburu for example, had late bakes, and dark bakes, in different sizes, but does anyone recall a sour/extra option? I don't. We're not talking about precise manufactured breads, so they would change flavor slightly from day to day, bake to bake, anyway. Maybe weather was part of it? They were most commonly sold as Batards and at the time, the now common Rounds used for bread bowls were more of a specialty item you would see at the Wharf, the airport for gifts, restaurants or at their bakery outlets.

                                                                                                        Let's not give bakers the wrong idea that all we're aching for is more sour. If Acme made an Extra Sour, it would still be wrong. Boudin's extra sour? Comforting, but still wrong.

                                                                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                          In the late 60s in Davis, CA, the independent grocer had a section with half a dozen or more brands of SF sourdough. They were all unsliced long loaves in paper bags (except the heat-and-serve). Some had bags labeled Extra Sour, Late Bake, or Dark Bake at the end, so you could easily tell which was which.

                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                            I doubt any market in SF proper had that much selection of brands. The distribution was fractured into territories with limited crossover.

                                                                                                            If you're happy with Boudin, more power to you. Tartine's country bread tastes closer to me, and thats void of any sour at all.

                                                                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                              Tartine's bread is one of my favorites ever, but it's nothing like what I grew up eating. It has a wetter, heavier crumb and the crust is in a class by itself.

                                                                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                No idea what a heavier crumb means, but it's that crust and wetness that help make it the closest match, outside Tadich's. We are talking about a type of rustic peasant bread. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sourdoug...

                                                                                                                I'm glad injecting sourness is enough for you though. Have you abandoned the intent of your own thread, or are you still frustrated with the current sourdough market?

                                                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                  Heavier crumb is literal, a loaf of a given volume weighs more.

                                                                                                                  Boudin tastes right to me and Scott's is more convenient than making a special trip to the City.

                                                                                                                  Your memories don't seem to match mine at all, the only place I'd previously had bread similar to what Chad Robertson made at Bay Village and now makes at Tartine was in Germany.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    The new sourdoughs are often too light. Good point.

                                                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                      I don't think Boudin's bread is any lighter than what I grew up with.

                                                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              I'll ask my grandma about the labeling of sourdough. A favorite story of mine is how when they moved to Texas in the late 1950s for a job assignment, she asked her new grocer if they had any San Francisco Sourdough. Apparently the look she got in return made her "want to melt right into the pavement."

                                                                                                              My memory clicks in somewhat later, but I always remember seeing regular sour and extra sour designations. What I'm not so sure about is whether the extra sour cost extra money, which I would think would be the case if they had to ferment it for an extra half day or so. My guess is extra sour, even back in the "golden era," was mostly accomplished by adding some vinegar.

                                                                                                              1. re: SteveG

                                                                                                                Extra Sour did not cost more, and did NOT contain vinegar -ugh!

                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                  How do you know it didn't contain vinegar, Picawicca? I sense you're a little sensitive to the addition of vinegar to sour doughs, but it's been added to sour dough bread manufacturing for decades. Do you think vinegar is not used, or not appropriate to use -- even though it's exactly what the little bacteria pump out to make the bread sour? I realize it may be a shock that the sourness (or at least part of it) comes not from the starter but from vinegar. In fact, when bakeries combine, flour, baker's yeast, vinegar and powdered starter with the sanfrancensis lactobacillus, they are able to mass-produce an "instant" sourdough. And this is precisely what many brands do. In fact, this way of making manufactured is more the norm than the artisan method.

                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                    To my palate, the distinctive sharp sourness is lactic acid from the bacteria, not vinegar from the yeast.

                                                                                                                    I've never seen vinegar listed as an ingredient in sourdough bread, though i don't buy supermarket crap.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                      In an artisan sourdough, the main source of sourness is the acetic acid (and to a lesser degree, the lactic acid) produced by the heterofermentative lactobacilli. It also produces CO2, the leavening, as does the yeast. The homofermentative lactobacilli produce only lactic acid, which lends complexity to the flavor but not exactly sourness.

                                                                                                                      A genuine starter is a world of biochemical miracles. Miraculously, the sourdough yeast don't eat what most yeast do -- maltose -- which leaves the maltose for the lactobacilli so they can do their thing. When the lactobacilli metabolize the maltose, they kick out glucose for the yeast to use. Most yeast don't survive in acid -- that the lactobacilli pump out in copious quantities -- but this yeast does. The yeast pumps out an alcohol the lactobacilli need to do their thing. The lactobacilli pumps out an antibiotic cycloheximide that sterilizes the starter so other microbeasties can't invade it, but the yeast is immune to this antibiotic. It's a miraculous symbiosis.

                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                        thank you for the patient explanations of the biochemistry. if the starter gets going on the flour and water, it produces both acetic and lactic acids, if i understand you correctly, ms. lorraine, and acetic acid=vinegar by another name. if that's a product of fermentation, and a booster of extra vinegar isn't added to the bread, acetic acid/vinegar would not be listed as an ingredient. trader joe's sells a very good organic sourdough in large half-squares (cut on the bias, so one purchases a right angled triangle shaped loaf) and starter isn't (nor is vinegar) even listed in the ingredients.

                                                                                                                        to my taste the breads like acme or preston of dry creek are higher quality, with a more complex flavor and interesting mouth feel, than the old-school s.f. sourdoughs (mainly i consumed larraburu or colombo, and plenty of both late bake and extra sour); nostalgia might make something better, but since it's not available anyway i don't really feel deprived by the absence of a form of white bread. i appreciate that the acme doesn't get stale within a day just wrapped in its paper bag, among its other qualities.

                                                                                                                        1. re: moto

                                                                                                                          Well, yes ... but what was lost was a common bond. Acme and all of that is good, but you can't walk into any maintream market such as Safeway and find it filled with artisan breads as it was filled with shelves of four or five different brands of sourdough of varrious degrees of sourness and bakes.

                                                                                                                          Sure you can go to Whole Foods to get the better breads ... but fresh bread baked daily at any market ... that was a thing of beauty and we didn't even notice its passing until it was gone.

                                                                                                                          What is left is tasteless, preservative-laden drek made by in-house supermarket bakeries.

                                                                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                            speaking for myself which is all i would ever do in this context, the commercialization, homogenization of many foods and food sources, decreasing freshness, greater distances between producer and consumer and the 'carbon footprint' that necessitates, did not escape my notice; it's a major reason i support Slow Food. it may have been more convenient in the past to get fresh baked bread (for me personally, acme gets delivered daily about 3/4 a mile from my door, arizmendi is about 1/2 mi), but convenience can cut in more ways than one.

                                                                                                                            1. re: moto

                                                                                                                              Not to get into the slow food movement which to me is the play toy of the rich ... or at least realitvely well-off ... fresh-baked daily-made sourdough bread available to everyone and not just the food cognate would have a whole smaller footprint than 90 percent of what markets like Safeway sell ... and in terms of wellness ... would not be loaded with the preservative and junk ingredients of most breads on the shelves these days.

                                                                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                That is another issue you raise that has troubled me in the course of this subject. When those sourdoughs were available that many of us remember they also didn't sit next to loaf after loaf containing high fructose corn syrup like almost every supermarket loaf of today. We seem in this country to have migrated to lighter and lighter not to mention sweeter breads as the norm. We unlike bakers in Europe for example underbake both breads and pastry routinely. It seems to speak to why these precious breads have lost a market to some degree.

                                                                                                                                1. re: cakebaker

                                                                                                                                  Not just the preservative and HFCS. The quality of basic, commercial wheat flour has degraded substantially over the decades with considerably less nutrient and protein value.

                                                                                                                            2. re: rworange

                                                                                                                              Robert's memories aside, you wouldn't see that kind of selection to pick from with sourdough bakers. It was like dairy products where a store only got delivery from one or two distributors., but deliveries were usually twice daily. The lifestyle was such that grocery shopping was a frequent activity.

                                                                                                                              It's important, because it's a core part of our culture, our regional diet, and it's a shame that half the people reading this will never really know the different in taste, and another group has just forgotten. It was a superior product, We didn't have baguettes, olive breads, or any of the fancy stuff we have now, but those breads should have never replaced the San Francisco Sourdough.

                                                                                                                              Imagine a time when buying a bread the quality of a Tadich, or Tartine, wasn't a special thing it was just the standard norm at your corner store.

                                                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                >>> Imagine a time when buying a bread the quality of a Tadich, or Tartine, wasn't a special thing it was just the standard norm at your corner store.

                                                                                                                                Exactly what I was getting at. Well stated.

                                                                                                                              2. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                >What is left is tasteless, preservative-laden drek made by in-house supermarket bakeries.<

                                                                                                                                Many supermarkets sell Acme and other artisan breads. That said, I still miss old-school SF sourdough. I think I'll stop by Bordenave in San Rafael today and get a round extra sour loaf and see what I think. I haven't had that one in a long time.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                                                                                  >I'll stop by Bordenave in San Rafael today and get a round extra sour loaf and see what I think..<

                                                                                                                                  I did that and I have to say I'm very disappointed and don't agree with opinions in this thread that Bordenave round extra sour is like old-school SF sourdough. I got a fresh loaf, the last one, early this afternoon and ate some very soon. Yes, there was some sour flavor but the flavor (much more mild), bread texture (too much like wonder bread), and crust (not at all like old SF sourdough) just left me with no reason to eat any more of that bread.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                                                                                    That was more of my experience ... again ... just rolls ... but it didn't make me want to buy a larger bread.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                                                                                      Yeah, I'm typically the voice of dissent so I held back a little on this one since it's at least kinda sour.....but Bordenave isn't close.

                                                                                                                                2. re: moto

                                                                                                                                  Chemical acidification of doughs is common. Citric acid is used the most. Acetic, lactic, and tartaric are also used. As with many ingredients, sometimes they don't show up on the label, or show up as flavorings and spices, something like that.

                                                                                                                                  The distinct aromatics of old school sourdough have been described as creamed corn, a dairy-ness or cheese quality, and a discernible sweetness. I agree with sugartoof that the diff between old and new is beyond mere sourness. The density is a source of curiosity also.

                                                                                                                            3. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                              I have had sourdoughs made with vinegar and hate them. The taste of vinegar is inescapable, and nothing like the sourness in the old SF extra sour.

                                                                                                            3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                              >Nobody ever used vinegar, just flour, water, salt, and some dough left over from the previous batch.<

                                                                                                              Here's a long-time sourdough baker who disagrees with that.

                                                                                                              "In 1970 I went down to San Francisco to find out if the Guru's of sourdough would help me make a sour sourdough. I was told that they used malt viniger to flavor their bread and that the real advantage of sourdoughs is not only the subltle flavors that come from the yeast but also the character of the crumb and crust that comes from the slow development of the bread. "

                                                                                                              That's from Frank Damore, owner of Pane D'Amore in Port Townsend, Washsington.



                                                                                                              Just thought I'd stir the pot a bit.

                                                                                                              1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                                                                Malt vinegar would have to be on the label.

                                                                                                                I've read a lot about old-school SF sourdough over the years and the bakers always said just flour, salt, and water. The starter is leftover dough mixed with more water, salt, and flour. The new artisanal bakers (e.g. Acme) often use some rye flour in the starter as it has more of the active cultures than wheat flour does.

                                                                                                                The rec.food.sourdough FAQ mentions malted barley flour and diastatic malt (which feed the yeat) but not vinegar (which inhibits yeast growth), except as a product of the bacilli in the starter.


                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                  The 70's would have been around the start of the heavy regulations on labeling. You could have got away with a secret ingredient, and who knows, unless any of us have an old bag sitting. Then again, I don't recall a drastic change in quality/flavors until around the late 80's.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                    "Malt vinegar would have to be on the label."

                                                                                                                    You'd think so, but it doesn't have to be on the label.

                                                                                                                    The FDA does not force manufacturers to list ingredients in manufacturing formulas that would divulge a proprietary blend, in this case a sourdough secret.

                                                                                                                    Furthermore, the FDA allows large exceptions for what is called a sub-ingredient, a “substance...that is present in a food by reason of having been incorporated into the food as an ingredient of another food, in which the substance did have a functional or technical effect.”

                                                                                                                    This is how vinegar, malt vinegar and other acids that fake sourness— because they’re added to the starter (which qualifies as “another food”) — can be added to breads without having their presence divulged on the ingredient label.

                                                                                                                    This rule is from the FDA Code of Federal Regulations — and the specific passage on sub-ingredients is from CFR 101.100(3) i. You can read the CFR online at

                                                                                                                    All this goes back to the fact that many breads marketed as “sourdough” actually are sour breads — and there’s a big difference between the two.

                                                                                                                    The reason for the deception, and I know that is a harsh word, is that there are such huge profits and tourism dollars in marketing bread as “San Francisco Sourdough” when in fact the breads are not authentically *sourdough* but yeasted sour bread:

                                                                                                                    “Most commercial sourdoughs aren't actually sourdough breads. They are yeasted breads that have had acetic acid, malic acid, and/or fumaric acid added to them.”

                                                                                                                    This is why the presence — in any quantity — of commercial yeast in a bread marketed as “sourdough” indicates the bread is not authentically sourdough — wherein the starter provides *all* the leavening. Yeasted sour breads are made sour by the addition of an acid, and are usually made with only a modicum of starter (so the claim can be made that a starter is used).

                                                                                                                    The show that Boudin puts on? Well, that’s a show.

                                                                                                                    And the FDA allows that the use of commercial yeast and any acid that fakes sourness need not be disclosed on the ingredient label because these sub-ingredients are part of the starter.

                                                                                                                    The big giveaway, IMO, that commercial yeast is used in a bread marketed as “sourdough” but really isn’t is a cake-like crumb with even small holes throughout — in contrast to an authentic sourdough with its large, unevenly sized holes in the crumb.

                                                                                                                    Here’s another wrinkle in the whole authentic sourdough vs. yeasted *sour bread* that is marketed as “sourdough” — authentic sourdough isn’t all that sour.

                                                                                                                    That’s because genuine sourdough has both acetic acid and lots of lactic acid — and the latter acid provides a roundness and mellow flavor, and not much tang.

                                                                                                                    Sour breads deceptively marketed as “sourdough,” on the other hand, get their sourness from harsher acids, without the mellowing lactic acid, and so they are much sourer than authentic sourdough breads.

                                                                                                                    So there’s a distinct possibility that what is remembered as “old-school” sourdough with its extra tang and sourness was actually a sour bread and not sourdough, and the less-tangy, more mellow sourdough of today, like that produced by Acme, is genuine sourdough. So what we may remember as being authentic actually wasn’t.

                                                                                                                    I’m sorry to dispel the myth of bread marketed as “San Francisco Sourdough” but isn’t authentically made from a sourdough starter, because it’s a wonderful story, originally borne in truth.

                                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                      "I’m sorry to dispel the myth of bread marketed as “San Francisco Sourdough"

                                                                                                                      I still contend it was a unique regional bread, no matter what the science or technique. It was the breads characteristics itself, and not the sourness that made and complimented it's own flavors.

                                                                                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                        Absolutely a distinct regional bread. And part of our cultural lore.
                                                                                                                        Though perhaps not made of what we believed.,

                                                                                                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                        You haven't dispelled any myths. I grew up eating the same extra sour sourdough that my parents and grandparents ate in SF. The ingredients were, flour, salt, and water, and whatever magic the fog rising off the Bay might have added. I have no idea what bakers are doing there these days, but back in the day, bread was simple and good.

                                                                                                                        There are plenty of sour sourdoughs around the world that don't use vinegar or other crap. I once had an extraordinary loaf in
                                                                                                                        Russia. Not like SF, but very, very good. Ingredients? Flour, water, and salt.

                                                                                                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                          "There are plenty of sour sourdoughs around the world that don't use vinegar or other crap. I once had an extraordinary loaf in Russia. Not like SF, but very, very good."

                                                                                                                          Yes, authentic sourdough bread is made all over the world, as has been for centuries. The zoo of bacteria in each starter and difference in grain account for the difference in flavor. Remarkably, in the last 15 years or so, it's been discovered that the same bacteria and yeast (with minor differences) in authentic San Francisco sourdough is found in sourdough starters all over the world.

                                                                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                            "... it's been discovered that the same bacteria and yeast (with minor differences) in authentic San Francisco sourdough is found in sourdough starters all over the world."

                                                                                                                            The differences aren't minor. Bakers who try to duplicate the flavor elsewhere have to go to a lot of trouble and it doesn't work so well.

                                                                                                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                          Great link. Another clause you could have cited:
                                                                                                                          "(b ) Substances that are added to a food during processing, are converted into constituents normally present in the food, and do not significantly increase the amount of the constitutents naturally found in the food."

                                                                                                                          Acetic and lactic acid precursors would fall directly into the category of constituents normally present in sourdough.

                                                                                                                          1. re: SteveG

                                                                                                                            Here's another really good sourdough link to check out. These folks offer sourdough cultures from all over the world, including one that they say is an authentic San Francisco sourdough culture:


                                                                                                                            1. re: Nancy Berry

                                                                                                                              Any starter you bring into San Francisco will rapidly become San Francisco starter after exposure to our local beasties and yeasties.

                                                                                                                        3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                          "The rec.food.sourdough FAQ mentions malted barley flour and diastatic malt (which feed the yeat) but not vinegar (which inhibits yeast growth), except as a product of the bacilli in the starter."

                                                                                                                          This is a great site, with a huge amount of information on making your own great sourdough.

                                                                                                                          Unfortunately, some of the microbiology is no longer current, and for that, I think the Debra Wink site, mentioned earlier, is better. http://www.thefreshloaf.com/

                                                                                                                          And while the rec.food.sourdough website is great for authentic sourdough, the science doesn't apply to commercially made sour breads marketed as sourdough.
                                                                                                                          That's why vinegar isn't mentioned -- it's never part of authentic sourdough.

                                                                                                                          As mentioned earlier, maltose -- in reference to the malted barley flour and diastatic malt you mention -- does not feed the yeast but instead feeds the sourdough lactobacilli. They consume the maltose. The sourdough yeast is odd -- different from other yeasts -- in that it cannot consume maltose, and instead consumes glucose, which is manufactured metabolically by the lactobacilli -- they pump it out as a by-product along with acids and carbon dioxide -- and that's how the sourdough yeast gets its food. The sourdough yeast is also unusual in that it is acid-tolerant -- most yeasts aren't and would die in the pool of acetic and lactic acids produced by the lactobacilli. That's part of the miraculous symbiosis thing I was talking about earlier.

                                                                                                                        4. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                                                                          The state of Washington; that turned coffee into Starbucks, books into Amazon, and turned the Mac interface into Windows. Hate to be xenophobic, but Washingtonians should not pass judgment or attempt to make anything which is made better in the San Francisco Bay Area.

                                                                                                                          To quote George Costanza: "Seattle is the pesto of cities"

                                                                                                                          1. re: eurydike

                                                                                                                            The poster from Washington State contributed some good research that accurately jives with this SF natives memory.

                                                                                                                      3. Boudin uses only flour, water, and salt, no additives. It's an artisanal product, just like all the extinct brands. Nobody ever added vinegar or chemicals in the old days.

                                                                                                                        "Imagine a time when buying a bread the quality of a Tadich, or Tartine, wasn't a special thing it was just the standard norm at your corner store."

                                                                                                                        Imagine is the precise word. I grew up on traditional SF sourdough and when Steve Sullivan opened Acme Bread there was no comparison. I would drive from SF to Berkeley to get it, or schlep from the Mission to North Beach to get it from Singer & Foy.

                                                                                                                        I never had bread like Tartine's in this country before Chad Robertson started making it at Bay Village. It's still in a class by itself, except for the very similar loaf made by one of his ex-employees at Manresa.

                                                                                                                        Tadich's loaf is arguably better than the regular Boudin but to my taste it isn't remotely in the same league with what I can get from the best of the local artisanal bakers such as Tartine, Acme, Della Fattoria (Petaluma), and Artisan (Sonoma). I'm not sure it's even in the same league with second-rank products such as those made by Semifreddi, Panorama, and Grace.

                                                                                                                        14 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                          And yet ... you started this thread to find it

                                                                                                                          Again, no one is saying it is superior,. But it was easily available to everyone and, IMO, elevated everyone's life ... unlike the French loaves turned out by supermarkets today that taste like cotton with a crust that taste little different than the paper bag that holds them.

                                                                                                                          There are people who will never taste Acme and company because they don't shop in those circles.

                                                                                                                          I have yet to try Tartine's bread because it is too much of a pain to get there at the right time ... yes I know I can put it on order but just dealing with Tartine's lines and the parking gives me the vapors. I will have to stop by Cafe Prague again and see if they do indeed serve Tartine's bread. Still ... too inaccesible without a special effort.

                                                                                                                          It is too bad the town wasn't big enough for both the new school artisan breads and old school sourdough.

                                                                                                                          1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                            I'm nostalgic, but only to a very limited degree. When I'm going to eat cracked crab, once in a while I think about picking up a loaf of old-school sourdough.

                                                                                                                            If I'd been able to find old-school sourdough without major effort I might not even have bought it. It just surprised me that it had disappeared to such a degree--I'd seen the ubiquitous Colombo paper bags and didn't realize they were just camouflage.

                                                                                                                            I'm not sure who you mean by "they don't shop in those circles." All the supermarkets around here sell artisan breads. Parisian, Toscana, et al. disappeared from the markets only because they were pushed out by Acme, Grace, Artisan, Semifreddi, Metropolis, Bakers of Paris, and so on.

                                                                                                                            An easy way to try Tartine's bread is to have a meal or snack at Bar Tartine.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                              I guess you don't shop at Lucky's, FoodMax, or more run of the mill stores that would have had the old sourdoughs and don't carry artisan breads, the only fresh breads are from in-house bakeries.

                                                                                                                              And how much would I have to pay for that snack at Bar Tartine including tip... not to mention the hassle of parking.

                                                                                                                              I'm not saying I wasn't there every Saturday morning in Berkeley when Acme opened. I haven't looked at the sourdough section at grocery in ages because it seemed all pre-sliced stuff in bags.

                                                                                                                              However, it is sad that there is now artisan and crap and no inbetween.

                                                                                                                              My husband got hooked on some of the bagettes I was bringing home. He is more likely to stop by Lucky or Foodmax and brought home their equivalent ... once. I can't even imagine this man going into Andronico's and places of that ilk or seeking out farmers markets or artisan bakers ... heck, he's always working the hours those places are open.

                                                                                                                              I can't help but think if the old school sourdoughs were still there he'd be buying those regularily.

                                                                                                                              I kind of equate this to Mexican panaderias. While there isn't greatness there, there is goodness at a good price. They still use flour, eggs, milk etc to make what they are making. If you look at the ingredient list on the tres leches cakes at Mi Tierra in Berkeley compared to what Safeway sells, the difference is apparant. The panadria stuff is decent, honest everyday stuff that won't knock anyone's socks ... sort of like old school sourdough.

                                                                                                                              Though I prefer better bakeries, on a Sunday morning when I want a sweet roll they fill a niche. The same with the old sourdoughs. Yeah, I prefer, for the most part, artisan breads, but it was a nicer world when you could always pick one up anywhere.

                                                                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                RW, the Lucky's near us (Montclair) carries Semifreddi's and one other "artisan" brand right inside the front door. So some supermarkets do carry stuff other than the "house" or major brands.

                                                                                                                            2. re: rworange

                                                                                                                              rw - just to mention it...delfina also serves tartine bread, though i'm not sure if they stick to offering the plain country that's so good. the bread lines at tartine are pretty quick, but the worst part is you could make a special trip, and find they've sold out. by the time you arrived. all that and it's expensive.

                                                                                                                            3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                              To argue which is better, the great selection of new artisanal breads or a extinct regional bread, is absurd. Almost as absurd as claiming Boudin tastes timeless and the same as it ever did.

                                                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                I have absolutely nothing of value to add. I just want to say that this is one of the best, most informative threads I've ever read here. Thanks!

                                                                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                  I don't share your opinion that it's extinct, since Boudin tastes to me like what I grew up eating. I don't remember much difference between the brands, I just looked for the Late Bake wrapper.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                    Strange. You shared the opinion in your own opening post to this thread, Robert.

                                                                                                                                    You said "I knew this stuff was nearly extinct, but I didn't know things had gone this far."

                                                                                                                                    Were you really waiting for someone to name Boudin?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                      By "nearly extinct" I meant I thought there was still Colombo, since as I noted above I was unaware Interstate had started putting a plastic bag inside the paper.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                        Chiming in late but to me Boudin is close but just not the same. It doesn't have that giant crusty split protruding off the top. You know...the one that tears up the roof of your mouth. Acme has a pretty big sagittal crest (for lack of a better term) but the texture and sourness is not old school.

                                                                                                                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                  I will be visiting north beach--where is singer & foy? google searches were fruitless.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Produce Addict

                                                                                                                                    I think you need a wayback machine.
                                                                                                                                    "Singer is a managing partner, wine manager and the one who brought the possibility of the restaurant to light. He has been in the wine business for 30 years, starting with the shop he co-owned in San Francisco, Singer & Foy..." Robert made the trip early in the days when Acme was apparently only available in a few places.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Produce Addict

                                                                                                                                      Closed years ago. Some of the partners are involved with Cesar.

                                                                                                                                  2. I'm curious about Boudin now and wonder if there's a difference between where the loaf is baked...or if it's all bad. How much of Boudin's product is baked at the new place at Fisherman's Wharf (I haven't been) and the old place on 10th Ave?

                                                                                                                                    Would the difference in humidity and ambient temp. made a difference in the starter, proofing and the bake? I know the old 10th Ave place is in prime fog belt and the location is very minimal in protection from the elements. It's probably a few degrees colder then a new facility...maybe quite a few degrees colder if the new place is up to energy codes.

                                                                                                                                    I know there's many other factors (wheat, etc.) but I'm curious to see/understand if there's a difference due to facilty, weather, temp.

                                                                                                                                    Also the other factor to consider is how the climate has changed in SF proper. The fog really has been reduced in the past 20 years. You simply don't see the thick, rolling/lumbering stuff any more even in the Richmond. (I've had a few conversations with old timers about the fog and most agree..but some say it's cyclical). The temp/weather/humidity change has to effect the starter.

                                                                                                                                    12 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                      No difference between the 10th St bakery and the Wharf bakery. I can only say that based on the hot cross bun that has been more and more awful every year ... now I just buy it for the amusment factor because I aways imagine it can't get worse ... that they have changed something in the bread to make it more of a tourist pleaser.

                                                                                                                                      Also, the sourdough at Tadich is done right. So they know how to make a good sourdough. When Parisian closed, Boudin picked up Scoma's. The bread there is not even as good as the standard sourdough sold at the shops. I know other customers have complained at Scoma's because when I told my waiter I really wasn't happy about the bread, he said other customers complained. I ate at Scomas at the end of August. Sourdough is still awful there.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                        I recall reading long ago that the secret is the moisture in the walls of the old bakeries. Seems to support the needed mold for good sourdough. I think, however, that it may be that San Franciscans are not as demanding as they used to be. The same is true for Chinese cooking...the reason SF has so many good places is the demand. Chinese are very, very picky about their chow. Years ago, a restaurant couldn't survive at Fishermans Wharf without a good late-bake sourdough. Pretty soon it dwindled to Tadich and Sam's and a few others.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                        Reportedly the old bakery on 10th makes 20,000 loaves a day and the one at FW makes 4,000.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                          Been eating Boudin's sourdough since the mid 70's. from 10th ave as I was born, raised and still live in the Richmond. I still love their sourdough and pick up loaves all the time. The quality is good, it's local, convenient and very nostalgic for me as well. As a child I distinctly remember the aromas of their loaves proofing from a block away. As an adult, I can't remember the last time I smelled this. Probably has to do with proofing in large commercial proofers. The bread has gotten more uniform over the years and the crust is not as thick and not as chewy. The bread has lost some of its complexity yet it still is my sourdough of choice.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: munrass

                                                                                                                                            Is Boudin on 10th Ave using a big commercial proofer now? That would make a huge difference compared to sitting out in Richmond fog is what is basically a garage. Oldtimer's damp wall theory certainly suggests heavy air moisture.

                                                                                                                                            Commercial proofers would drastically change the dynamic needed for the SF starter/culture that thrives in dank, moist, chilly conditions, not warm controlled air. I'm not sure but the SF starter dies if it gets too warm, or it works different, right? If a different (non-traditional) proofing process is use, it might alter or weaken the culture, thus the flavor.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                              I'm having trouble with this type of supposition. Commercial proofers give the baker control over humidity and temperature. They don't preclude "authentic" Richmond district fog, they just guarantee that it is consistent.

                                                                                                                                              San Francisco's original Mission and gold rush encampments weren't even in the fog districts for that matter. What version of authentic are we looking for?

                                                                                                                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                                Boudin was in North Beach from the 1850s until the earthquake.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                  We are talking about post earthquake bread though. We don't really know what a miners bread tasted like, but we can guess it was more rustic, and less delicate.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                    Isidore Boudin was a baker. His early customers were miners.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                      Meaningless trivia unless you have any information on the flavor of the bread may have evolved, or weather patterns changed their product? Or modern ovens?

                                                                                                                                          2. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                            I was noticing the fog last month was as thick as ever, and thinking about sourdough in particular.

                                                                                                                                            About 3 years ago I was able to buy some bakes at Boudin that were close enough. Not exact but like a softer Tadich bake. This was from the Richmond location, and I probably suggested this on Chowhound at the time and talked it up as the last of the real sourdoughs. SInce then, I've been back countless times and never managed to find the same bake. Not even close. I think their quality is lacking at times, and so you can get a pretty satisfying loaf here and there by luck, but overall it's just not the same.

                                                                                                                                            I think the reality is most people wouldn't know a real sourdough is a stale loaf hit them in the head, and they're doing it to cut costs and please more people. Or so they mistakingly think. If only Boudin would do what Columbus Salami has done, and start an artisinal line or something of that sort, they are very capable of producing the real thing if they want...and I assure you, someone in the Boudin plant knows the difference.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                              It would seem that if they can bake it for Tadich and Sam's, they can bake it for us (for a price, of course). There is something to the variable humidity having an effect on the particular batch of bread. I do recall as a youngster that bread baked after a heavy rainfall was quite different than during a dry spell.

                                                                                                                                          3. Boudin and Acme. Best breads everrr

                                                                                                                                            1. It took 2 weeks but I finally spoke with someone at Boudin that knows about the various bakes. It turns out that the bread Tadich and Sam's gets is the same and is "stone" baked at the Wharf location. They are the only location with a hearth oven as well as carousel ovens...the 10th St. has only carousel ovens. It is the dark bake and is not available retail...only restaurant orders. I was also told that the cafe at the wharf serves for table bread a darker bake that is just for them that is only served as table bread and not for sale as whole loaves which I find interesting. I still plan on getting loaves of Tadich's and Tartine side by side just for comparison even though they are different.

                                                                                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: cakebaker

                                                                                                                                                Thanks for doing that leg work!

                                                                                                                                                I can't imagine a sensible reason why they're no longer offering these breads to the public.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: cakebaker

                                                                                                                                                  The bakery at the Wharf has glass walls so visitors can watch, doesn't it?

                                                                                                                                                  I asked Boudin if there was anyplace else in the East Bay besides OAK and Scott's to buy their bread and they said only the branch in Walnut Creek.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                    The hearth oven (stone as they refer to it) is at the end of the counter and is visible although I don't think I've ever noticed it before. It is the only place the restaurant loaves we've been talking about are baked which surprised me. The Walnut Creek cafe is the only place in the east bay retail to buy the 1# rounds but it is of course the lighter carousel baked loaves. I do think it is interesting about the darker bake for the customers at the Wharf cafe which I'm told is done at the request of the owners so that suggests on some level they recognize the difference in today's lighter loaves and what one would expect at the wharf in the cafe. I do understand the similarity in taste to the older loaves but the texture of the current crust is not at all what I remember whether it was Toscano, Boudin, Laraburu, Columbo or Parisian. They all seemed to have a much more substantial less shiny crust and a more open crumb which the person I spoke with suggested was my memory playing tricks on me but I don't think so.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: cakebaker

                                                                                                                                                      The less shiny crust (no gloss) is the stuff I remember. I only had SF sourdough as a kid when visiting relatives but I distinctly remember the flat brown (light to medium milk choco color), the split top and a much whiter center of the loaf.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cakebaker

                                                                                                                                                        Thanks for the research. Now that you mention it, when I ate at the upstairs Boudin cafe it did seem a better quality of bread.

                                                                                                                                                  2. The questions about weather and fog are good ones. I'm not sure any airborne flora make it into any commercially made sourdough anymore. I mentioned earlier the high-tech air filtering systems that most bakeries have that filter out all flora -- the beneficial sourdough flora -- as well as any other flora that might adversely affect the dough.

                                                                                                                                                    The reason the indigenous SF airborne yeast and bacteria were discovered was because a bakery (IIRC, Boudin) noticed their bread was more sour on some days than other days and wondered why. They called in some microbiologists, and the scientists discovered that on some days the SF air had more "sourdough" microflora than on other days. If a bakery relies on this flora to populate a starter, the sourness of the bread will vary day to day, or by location. Lots more flora near the ocean vs. inland.

                                                                                                                                                    In a desire to maintain the consistency of sourness day to day, many sourdough bakeries stopped capturing any airborne flora, and instead relied on industrially "grown" sourdough yeast and bacteria that comes in a powder form. And when it was discovered that the bulk of the flora is already on the grain itself -- wheat, rye, etc -- there was no need to "catch" anything from the air anyway.

                                                                                                                                                    So there's the first reason for the change in sourdough flavor over the years -- a difference source of flora. There's no doubt in my mind that the "zoo" of airborne flora probably made more complex, more flavorful and interesting bread than the commercially supplied "standardized" flora.

                                                                                                                                                    Lots of changes in sourdough bread making/manufacturing over the last 40 years also. In my research, I spoke with many of the bakeries and bakers, and the scientist after whom the "San Francisco" sourdough yeast -- candida milleri -- is named, Martin Miller. Steve Sullivan of Acme was very knowledgeable and forthright about what's really being done in bakeries, and Boudin hemmed and hawed mightily in response to specific questions about their starter and microflora, perhaps to protect the "mystique" of the brand.

                                                                                                                                                    The drive for efficiency and greater profits may have been the final thing that killed off "old-school" sourdough. Sourough bread -- if it's made only from a starter that's grown -- takes more time and costs more money than "sourdough" bread made from powdered starter and commercial baker's yeast. Commercial yeast vastly speeds up the process -- it gallops the bread along, but in sourdough, time is flavor. So another drop-off in flavor there, and huge change in texture. A shorter baking time equals another change in flavor and texture.

                                                                                                                                                    All these changes in production changed the flavor of sourdough. Today, the smell of the bread, the crumb (big open holes vs. a cakelike texture), and the type and degree of sourness are all clues to how a bakery is making their sourdough. I doubt most bread marketed as "sourdough" is actually made from a starter "grown" from naturally occuring flora. Which is why the artisan bakers who do "grow" a starter (using flora from the air or grain) and make the real deal are culinary heroes.

                                                                                                                                                    It's easy enough for any Chowhound to ask a commercial bakery if they use *any* powdered starter, or if their starter is grown *only* using flora from the grain. Ask if any flora is captured from the SF air. And finally, is any commercial baker's yeast used at all?

                                                                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                      Boudin use to store the mother starter at the 10th Ave location. You use to be able to see it on TV/news segments. They'd do the tour, pull it out of the frig and then shove it back in. This was before the big make-over/retail expansion. If I were to guess, given what you said, they don't use that natural stuff any longer and that's why it doesn't taste the same. Of course who knows.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                                                                                                                        I was told they still do it the same way as always and the recipe has never changed and they have never added vinegar. The only difference is the two ovens and whatever differences exist between the two locations.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                        Does Acme have a filtering system? The SF and Berkeley bakeries are open, but there might be sealed rooms for rising and proofing. Their levain definitely varies from day to day.

                                                                                                                                                        If they add commercial yeast, it has to be listed among the ingredients on the label.

                                                                                                                                                        The flour has surely changed over the 150 years Boudin has been in business.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                          I thought of asking about the flour afterwards...that's a good point. It may be "my mind playing tricks on me" but I seem to also remember a cream color to the crumb and now both Boudin and Bordenave seem to be very white and have a much finer crumb so the flour could indeed be a variable.

                                                                                                                                                      3. Boudin's advertising claims that "The Boudin Sourdough French Bread recipe remains unchanged since 1849" and "Our Sourdough French bread is still made with flour, salt, & water and a portion of the original mother dough."

                                                                                                                                                        If they added enough vinegar to the starter to flavor the dough, it would kill the starter. If they added it to the dough, it would be false advertising (even if the FDA doesn't require that it to be listed on the label).

                                                                                                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                          Well whatever they're doing, the product is suffering as a result, and it no longer tastes "unchanged".

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                            I wander how Raymond’s Sourdough would compare. They started in 1978, according to http://www.raymondsbread.com/

                                                                                                                                                            Would you even call theirs old-school sourdough bread?

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: intomeat

                                                                                                                                                              Raymond's doesn't look, taste or feel like an old style rustic sourdough.
                                                                                                                                                              No idea what they sold in '78, but my guess is they were actively intending to be a departure from the norm rather than competition to the old timers.

                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                              "If they added enough vinegar to the starter to flavor the dough, it would kill the starter."

                                                                                                                                                              Starters are extremely acidic and constantly churn out acids -- in particular the same acid as in vinegar -- so no, a starter wouldn't be killed by the addition of vinegar or other acids in amounts commonly used in bread making. Several scientific studies by Ganzle and de Angelis (all available online) of acids and Lactobacillus Sanfranciscensis -- acid-stress tests, the effect of pH on LB SF growth -- demonstrated the acid-tolerance and even LB adaptation to acids. Of course, there's a limit to how much acid can be added to the starter before killing the lactobacillus, but this would be an amount that would no longer be flavorful.

                                                                                                                                                              Even if adding acid to a starter *were* a risk, it could be added to the dough instead and still not be listed on the ingredient label. This is because of the FDA "normal constituents" exception that SteveG talks about in his post above. As Steve says, acetic and lactic acid are constituents normally present in sourdough. Because of that, they don't have to be listed on the label. I'd have to check to see if other acids used in sour breads -- ascorbic, malic, citric, tartaric -- are also considered sourdough "constituents" and can be added without being listed. Right now, I doubt it -- I've never seen them listed as by-products of sourdough fermentation.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                We're really only talking about Boudin here, since that's the only old-school bakery still in business. What the FDA might allow Boudin to leave off the ingredient list is trumped by the claims in their advertising.

                                                                                                                                                                People who keep starter on hand frequently have trouble keeping the acid levels down. I've never seen a reference to adding vinegar except for a tiny amount to adjust for hard water, which has no effect on the flavor of the bread.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                  Bordenave, and Wedemeyer have been around since the 20's, and 30's.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                    "We're really only talking about Boudin here, since that's the only old-school bakery still in business. What the FDA might allow Boudin to leave off the ingredient list is trumped by the claims in their advertising."

                                                                                                                                                                    Not at all sure Boudin’s marketing/advertising would hold up under FTC scrutiny since what Boudin claims “has the potential to deceive.”

                                                                                                                                                                    When I was heavy into research on sourdough microbiology, I spoke twice with Boudin insiders off-the-record, asking specific questions about their starter micro-culture and their bread making process. From those conversations, my estimation is that only a very small percentage of genuine sourdough makes it into the final dough. Yet the marketing and advertising asserts that the bread is *all* authentic sourdough, made *in its entirety* from that Mother Starter that began more than a century ago. This is a departure from accuracy, but the claim drives sales and perpetuates the myth.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                      "People who keep starter on hand frequently have trouble keeping the acid levels down. I've never seen a reference to adding vinegar except for a tiny amount to adjust for hard water, which has no effect on the flavor of the bread."

                                                                                                                                                                      An excess of acid is often found in home starters (not commercial ones) that are not used and refreshed frequently.

                                                                                                                                                                      When a starter is maintained, more than half of it is removed weekly to bake bread but discarded if not. Then, new flour and water are added. This keeps the acids at a good level, and gives the lactobacilli and yeast something to feed on.

                                                                                                                                                                      When starters aren’t used or refreshed, they will smell very vinegar-y and eye-stinging sharp. Part of that smell comes from the pool of brownish or grayish “hooch” that sits on top of an unmaintained starter. That’s alcohol made by the lactobacillus and yeast, and it’s fine to stir it back into the starter or pour it off before refreshing the starter.

                                                                                                                                                                      Temperature again has an effect. Most home starters are kept in the refrigerator where the cold temperature will favor the stronger acetic acid rather than the mellower lactic acid, and not refreshing the starter makes it even more vinegar-y. Too little liquid has the same effect. Starters kept at room temperature are mellower, and grow more quickly — but that also means they have be used and refreshed quickly.

                                                                                                                                                                2. I emailed Boudin to ask about vinegar and got this reply:

                                                                                                                                                                  This is Fernando Padilla, Master Baker for Boudin Bakery. For the past 30 years, Boudin has been my passion. I learned the craft of baking our sourdough bread from Master Baker Papa Steve Giraudo who learned the craft from Isidore Boudin’s family himself and although bakers have changed over time, our recipe has remained the same:

                                                                                                                                                                  * We still make our bread with the same four ingredients dating back to1849: flour, water, salt and our mother dough which is the most important ingredient, and the great thing about it is that we have kept it alive day in day out for over 160 years (that is the secret); 30 years myself.

                                                                                                                                                                  * We don't take any short cuts. It still takes 48 to 72 hours to make our bread.

                                                                                                                                                                  * We do not use additional chemicals such as vinegar, fumeric acid or others in our bread recipe.

                                                                                                                                                                  Sourdough is my life and I consider myself to be one of the best. I am very proud of my craft. I have the respect of a lot of great bakers from around the world and that is why reading comments like this makes me sad.

                                                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                    With respect to Fernando Padillo, Boudin isn't fooling natives of San Francisco. They know the difference, and I hope the renewed attention on their baking process will inspire them to return to old form.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                      Mr. Padilla repeats that standard PR answer often. Using the words "Mother Dough" -- in marketing, in advertising, on the label -- means the bread can legally contain commercial baker's yeast, acids, and a slew of other things Boudin doesn't want you to know about. Boudin will never disclose what's in the "Mother Dough" because that would reveal a decades-long deception.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                        I have a starter I created at home from nothing but flour and water in SF, my bakes smell very similar to the smell coming out of Boudin's 10th ave location.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. THE "FEEL GOOD BAKERY" IN ALAMEDA HAS REAL, ORIGINAL SOUR DOUGH,

                                                                                                                                                                        JUST AS DESCRIBED IN THIS RIDICULOUSLY LONG BLOG ON THE SUBJECT.

                                                                                                                                                                        CHECK IT OUT

                                                                                                                                                                        23 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: McIntosh

                                                                                                                                                                          I had never heard of this bakery before, but looking at their website makes me want to go there and try every bread they make.


                                                                                                                                                                          Feel Good Bakery
                                                                                                                                                                          1650 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                                                                                                                            I had a wonderful cheese breadstick from Feel Good with my soup recently and Encuentro. Ruth is the Chowhound at large reporting about Feel Good. I wonder if she has tried the sourdough.

                                                                                                                                                                            I don't see it on their site, but I think they sell at a few farmers markets also.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                                                                The picture of their sourdough from their site doesn't look too promising, with it's tiny bubbled crust.... but their description sure sounds exciting.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                                                  Aren't the tiny bubbles on the crust precisely what you want in sourdough? They are an indication that the dough has been retarded (cooled), meaning the dough has not been baked the same day it was formed and so has had more time to develop flavor. Those bubbles also mean a more pronounced sour flavor since the lactobacilli that produce sourness are more active at cooler temperatures.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                                    No. I know you've researched the science, but visibly speaking, most all of the new breed fake "sourdoughs" have those bubbles, and fail to deliver.

                                                                                                                                                                                    For example: Raymond's has lots of bubbles, but produces a disappointing sourdough. Tadich's, good sourdough, and not very bubbly. The air pockets are inside, not on the crust, which should be more rustic. A bubbly Baguette crust is wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                                                      Though those tiny bubbles in the crust are on genuine sourdough bread, they are no guarantee that the dough has a developed sourdough flavor. Any dough can be cooled. This has nothing to do with the holes in the crumb.

                                                                                                                                                                                      The bubbles *are* an error in French baguettes, because those doughs are not supposed to be cooled. The bubbles in that case are sort of an indication of pre-fab (refrigerated and then baked) sourdough.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                                        Sorry, but a genuine sourdough, like the ones of yesteryear, did not resemble these bubbly crusted breads. They were visibly different.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                                                          They weren't held overnight then, the bubbles are formed from trapped CO2 under the skin of the bread escaping rapidly during the initial blast of heat from the oven. I'd imagine that a lot of bakeries are using cold retardation to make their scheduling easier, as it gives you some wiggle room as far as timing. I wouldn't claim that the bubbles are any indication of quality though. Attached is a photo of one of my breads.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: rockfish42

                                                                                                                                                                                            Beautiful looking bread. I'm not saying a sourdough should be void of bubbles entirely, but it should not be a flakey, heavily bubble textured crust. I mention it again - it's meant to be a rustic bread.

                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                                                        Like Maria just mentioned, the bubbles are an indication of the loaf being retarded over night. When done to a true sourdough bread this should increase the amount of acid formed in the bread without letting it overproof. There are a couple other ways to increase the sourness, namely using a firm starter or including flours with higher ash content. Strangely a less open crumb on the inside from a lower hydration dough would probably lead to a more sour finished bread.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: rockfish42

                                                                                                                                                                                          Okay but we're getting back to a fundamental misunderstanding (or just disagreement) of what makes a sourdough a "traditional old school sourdough"....but despite the name, the sourness was only one of many elements.

                                                                                                                                                                                          We can't judge entirely from photos, and some of this technical talk may be of interest to bakers or some aspiring bakers, but I'm sorry to say, these crusts look closer to Acme Bread than Larraburu.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                                                            From the discussion, I'm guessing you're talking about a dark fairly thick crust? My photo was not supposed to be representative of the style, I'm mostly asking questions because I'd like to bake something more historically accurate. Would this attached picture be considered too thin?
                                                                                                                                                                                            Photo is copyright Susan over at wildyeastblog

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: rockfish42

                                                                                                                                                                                              It looks off to me, but it's very hard to say why.
                                                                                                                                                                                              A sourdough crust had some elasticity to it. Boudin's current version would be an overkill example of that. Too rubbery if you rip it by hand.Tartine's country white would be a better example, on sourdoughs weren't as difficult to slice as their bread can be.

                                                                                                                                                                                              The thicker wood burning crust actually looks too thick!
                                                                                                                                                                                              I hope others chime in with opinions too, and you nail it.

                                                                                                                                                                                              I also wonder if water might play a role. There's great mythology around the water in a New York bagel, and San Francisco drinking water has changed drastically over the last two decades.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                                                                I'd imagine that the flour would play a bigger part in how rubbery the bread is, higher protein flours can cause that effect. There are too many variables with regards to types of wheat and milling to really get a good idea of where to start. I'm tempted to try to talk to the millers at Giusto's as the company has been around since 1940.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                                                                                                              Here's a picture of a wood fired oven loaf that might be closer to what you're remembering.
                                                                                                                                                                                              Photo is from Jackal10's egullet.com eCGI course.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: rockfish42

                                                                                                                                                                                                That's a gorgeous loaf of bread, but crust too thick and dark for OSSFSD.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Are you sure? This memory suggests Larrabaru was pretty crusty.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                                                                                                                                                                    We probably shouldn't be judging breads over how concussion worthy they are.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    It's sure going to be hard for someone to duplicate something based on our adjectives, and some pictures, unless they had the chance to experience the real thing first person at some point....but I hope they pull it off!

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: rworange

                                                                                                                                                                                      Love Feel Good! Every bread I've had from them has been delicious. That said, I'm not sure I've ever had their sourdough -- I'm not even sure they make it on a regular basis. I usually get their French-style baguettes, which are a nice change from the San Francisco style (thinner, crisper crust, less chewy interior), especially since they almost always have some warm out of the oven if I stop in after work (between 5 and 6).

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                        I just realized that the reason I'm not aware of Feel Good's sourdough is that although they label it sourdough on their website, in the shop they call it Triple Levain.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                                                                                                          Oh, thanks. Have you had a chance to try it yet?

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: PegS

                                                                                                                                                                                            I bought one tonight. The triple levain loaf does have a traditional sourdough texture: thick, crusty crust with little bubbles in it, and moist, chewy interior. I'm not sure it's as tangy as traditional SF sourdough, though. The fact that they don't use all white flour (I think there's a bit of rye in it) throws me a little.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. I had a piece of Acme long Italian last night for the first time in a while and, you know, the texture of both crust and crumb and the flavor are the same as some of the sourdough I grew up. Not a "dark bake" or "extra sour" loaf, but a regular loaf. That may vary from day to day as the weather affects the cultures--I think this loaf was more sour than usual, but I might not have been paying attention the last hundred times I've had it.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                                                                                    You're saying Acme's Italian is their real sourdough?

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. I realize this is an old thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                    On December 9, 2013 I came to San Francisco for the purpose of sampling as many different sourdough breads as I could fit into my shopping bag. The bakeries I visited were: Josey Baker, La Boulange on 24th street, Noe Valley Bakery, Arizmendi and Tartine. I also picked up several sourdoughs at Rainbow Grocery and picked up some Boudin at one of their retail outlets.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I grew up on Larraburu in the '60s and '70s so I know what the real thing tastes like. As the O.P. asks specificlly about old=school sourdough, I'm here to tell you it no longer exists in San Francisco. If it does, I was unable to find it on this trip. To their credit. many of the bakeries I visited tell you straight up that their bread is not like the classic old-school sourdoughs "ike Boudin". At least they're up front about it, and they're right. It's a good thing that their bread isn't like Boudin, but it isn't like Larraburu, Parisian, Colombo etc., either. Time was when you could visit any grocery store and you had your choice of a half dozen good sourdoughs. No more. A few of the bakery breads I sampled tasted downright peculiar.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Acme sourdough comes the closest to old school -- close, but no cigar. It's considerably milder than the tangy legacy breads.

                                                                                                                                                                                    My loaf of Boudin had a strong vinegary aroma and flavor with little of the classic tanginess I was hoping for. I don't recommend it and wouldn't buy it again. Back in the day, Boudin wasn't even a contender. It was an also-ran. I'm not even sure you could buy it outside of an airport, in a regular grocery store or supermarket. Boudin is garbage which, through its aggressive P.R., is being foisted on unsuspecting tourists as "San Francisco" sourdough. They're trading on the association with San Francisco to sell an inferior product which doesn't live up to its hype.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Good luck finding old-school sourdough, even in San Francisco.