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Friday, September 17, 2010

S.F. Rising: Boudin Sourdough

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 3:16 PM

160 years old. Not the bread, the brand. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • 160 years old. Not the bread, the brand.

A weekly survey of bread in San Francisco ― the baked and the fried, the

artisan and the novelty.


Source: Boudin Bakery, 399 10th Ave. (at Geary), 221-1210,
Price: $3.20.
Toast-appropriateness: 5/10

As committed as we San Franciscans are to local foods, we have such conflicted feelings about the local companies that have made it big, don't we? Witness the Aidells Sausages stand at the Ferry Plaza farmers' market, kicked out this winter because the company had gone national. Guittard Chocolate only regained its respect among local chocolatiers once it introduced a premium, small-batch line of chocolate. And Boudin Bakery has been headquartered in San Francisco since 1849, but many in the food world write its sourdough off as fodder for tourists. 

Did you know that Boudin sourdough has been baked at the company's 10th Ave. bakery since 1906? According to the company's timeline [PDF], Louise Boudin, wife of founder Isodore, lugged a bucket containing the sourdough starter away from the post-earthquake fires that destroyed their North Beach facility, then set up shop in the Inner Richmond. There's a chance that, when you bite into a hunk of the bread, you're eating the great-to-the-ten-thousandth-granddaughter of the wild yeast organisms that soured the first Boudin loaf. 

Somehow, though, Boudin has become synonymous with commercial sourdough, and when I bought a late-bake loaf (last baking: 7 a.m.) at the 104-year-old facility, I didn't find my opinion of the bread changing. Having been eating Acme sourdough for a couple of decades now, I noticed the thinness of the Boudin loaf's glossy crust, the compactness of the crumb, the restrained sourness of the bread. The tang crescendoed as I tore off more and more pieces of the sourdough, but never achieved the same mouth-contracting effect as other local sourdough loaves.

So the Boudin sourdough is not a great bread, but it's certainly a decent one. Someday, as a point of local pride, I have every intention of making it to Fisherman's Wharf to eat clam chowder out of a Boudin bread bowl, something my parents have been doing for years on their visits to town. But, like the crooked block Lombard Street or the Cable Car Museum, I suspect the Boudin bread bowl will remain part the San Francisco they know, not the one I live in.

UPDATE: This post originally stated that Boudin added commercial yeast to the sourdough starter. That is not the case.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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