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May 14, 2010 11:05 AM

Make Authentic San Francisco Sourdough in Palo Alto?

The title should read: Authentic San Francisco Sourdough In Palo Alto?

I asked this in one of the other sourdough threads but didn't get a reply. Palo Alto is on the bay area peninsula about 30 miles from San Francisco proper.

If I make a sourdough starter in Palo Alto (seeded with the airborne yeast in Palo Alto), will I get the same tasty bread as with a starter made in San Francisco?

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  1. Good question! I just got a packet of starter from Sebastopol and I wondered something similar.

    (P.S. you have two hours to edit your title! It's not too late.)


    2 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      San Francisco sourdough has a specific species of yeast, So if you use any other type of starter, you are making plain sourdough bread.

      1. re: spineguy

        Yeah, yeah. But, I think the question is, where does this yeast live, exactly? Does it know the specific borders of the city of San Francisco? Can it even read a map? Or is Palo Alto close enough? Is Sebastopol? Or, is its microclimate so specific that, say, it can only live in the City, north of Golden Gate Park or something?


    2. Yeah, we are wondering just what this wild yeasts range is.

      Does it stop immediately at San Francisco's city limits or does it take excursions?

      If it just lives in San Francisco, does it stay out of the tenderloin like we do? How about the haight?

      Maybe it has to be near the wharf and the water.

      Ok so I am getting carried away.

      Maybe there are some professional San Francisco bakers out there that can answer.

      4 Replies
      1. re: tonka11_99

        Just purchase some. Short of hiring a microbiologist to study the strains of yeast in Palo Alto, this will make it easy for you to make bread with a known yeast strain.

        1. re: spineguy

          Perhaps, but many experts argue that the native yeasts in the area where the starter is used will take over in fairly short order.

          Having a known good starter *will* help jump-start your own starter quickly, but I think a good argument could be made that, within a month or so, you will probably have roughly the same starter than if you had started from scratch.

          And, as David Leader persuasively argues in "Local Breads", many of these old shops create a new starter from scratch periodically (several times a year), rather than use their centuries old starter.

          Whether it comes from the special yeast or something else, I, for one, don't particularly care for the "San Francisco" style of naturally leavened bread. Also, I don't like the fact that it gives people in the US the idea that "sourdough" should be "sour".

          1. re: spineguy

            spineguy, thanks for the link. I do have concerns though that the company you linked to is based in Idaho. Even if the starter was made in SF, it may have been overtaken by local yeasts after all this time. Of course, they could visit SF regularly to rebuild the starter, but are they so conscientious?

          2. re: tonka11_99

            tonka, I was thinking of making a trip to SF and the Wharf, setting myself down on a pier bench, mix my starter and let it breath the ocean air for a few hours. The only thing is that it would take more than 1 day of doing this, and I get tired of all the tourists. And would I be arrested for strange behavior, waving my starter over the water?

            I wouldn't mix it in the Tenderloin. Kind of seedy in those parts. Who knows what bacteria would make it into the starter. :-D.

          3. I suspect it would be very difficult for anyone outside a San Francisco baker to taste the difference.

            I guess you could take the scientific approach. Buy spineguy's kit, make another batch from scratch at home and make a batch in San Francisco. Make up 3 batch's and do a taste test.

            3 Replies
            1. re: tonka11_99

              The Boudin Bakery and Cafe is on the wharf, famous (so they say) for its sourdough baked on the premises. I wonder if they would sell me a loaf of unbaked bread to use as a starter.

              1. re: icecone

                What you need is starter, not an unbaked loaf. Maybe the bakery will donate a little starter to your cause, or, as maria lorraine suggested, just make your own.

                1. re: icecone

                  The Boudin Bakery is NOTORIOUSLY proprietorial about their starter. SO they will NOT share a starter.

                  Acme, over in Berkeley, is very nice if you go in with a plastic container and ask for some. You may have to try a few times. Depending on the time of day and the business they may say come back later.

              2. I would think Palo Alto is close enough. But the temperatures are very different much of the year. I've heard that even if you buy an SF yeast strain, once you've spent a year or two with it in Ohio or wherever else, the local yeasts will have taken over. If I wanted that particular SF wild yeast in Palo Alto, which is pretty close, I'd consider two approaches:

                1. Buy the yeast and create a starter, and renew it religiously with as little air exposure as possible, or;

                2. Buy the yeast and create a starter, and make a very large quantity over a couple of weeks, finally freezing portions of it for whatever number of future occasions.

                Good luck! I love and miss that SF sourdough taste. Am in northern Indiana now and making do with other, but delicious, yeasty things.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Bada Bing

                  I spent several months in PA last spring/summer and it has a decidedly different climate and flora than SF. Warm, dry, even hot some days, with pollen counts very high. So much more vegetation, and a marked soil diference (Clay vs SF's sand.)

                  All this would lead to very different yeast structures I would think. I'm no microbiologist but it only makes sense.

                  A location like Half Moon Bay would be more like SF than Palo Alto. I'd say don't worry about tryng to make SF sourdough in PA. Be happy with what you can make there!

                2. Another factor is the water. Hard and soft water react different with yeast.