We’ve tackled doughnuts, we’ve tackled tacos and we’ve tackled pumpkin beer. When planning our next culinary conquest, I sought something basic yet amazing. What simple, humble product could we acquire a lot of and devote serious effort into ranking? Right away bread lept off the list and shouted for my attention.
Ever since people were able to plant and harvest grains there has been bread. Dough, made of flour and water, is shaped and baked into a simple product that evokes a wonderful feeling for most people. It is almost mystical in its complex simplicity. We love bread so much that we compare things to the advent of mass produced slices. Bread is so deeply ingrained in our lives that a meal without it seems almost insane. Bread is what we break to bring us all together. Bread is the very foundation upon which our individual culinary lives are built. A world without bread is a world of pure chaos.
Instead of bringing bread to this tasting, I opted to load a cooler with various meats, cheeses and spreads for post-tasting pairing. We ended up up with five bread offerings from bakeries in Richmond: Billy Bread, Idle Hands, Lucille’s Bakery, Montana Gold Bread Co. and Sub Rosa. As we laid out our spread, we got a lot of jealous looks and quite a few people stopping by to catch a whiff of fresh baked goodness.
The rules were simple: Everyone would get a piece of the bread in its basic form. Your first taste had to be of this plain, basic bread. After your first taste, you were free to butter or olive oil your piece, but first taste had to be pure. Each person was to give their thoughts on the crust, the texture, the smell and the taste. After all was said and done, it would be ranked most (1) to least favorite (5). I truly wanted to let the bread speak to each person. Without further ado, this is what the bread said.
5th Place: Lucille’s Bakery
Lucille’s Bakery is located on North Meadow. To be fair, Lucille’s didn’t get a fair shake in the testing. At the time of purchase, they had no loaves of bread. So rolls were purchased instead. In my opinion, this entry doesn’t truly count, but we tried it anyway.
These rolls didn’t really have a crust to them as they were soft sandwich rolls as opposed to a hard roll. The smell and taste leaned towards the sweet side. We engaged in a deep discussion on if the flavor and sturdiness of these rolls leant more towards cold cuts or pulled pork. I think that these have the ability to handle pulled pork, but they would possibly end up soaking up too much liquid. As far as cold cuts go, these rolls would be perfect. At the end of the day, these rolls didn’t fit into our testing but they were still very good.
4th Place: Montana Gold Bread Co.
Montana Gold Bread Co. has been pumping out baked goods since 1994. I have yet to determine if this bread coming into the tasting presliced made a difference or not though I lean towards not since it saved me a lot of work. For pure amount of bread, this was one of the bigger loaves of the day. When I pondered how many cold cuts could be piled upon each slice’s vast surface, I felt great joy. Almost every reviewer likened the smell of this bread to sandwich bread of their youth. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The very odor of this bread made us nostalgic for sandwiches of days gone by. The taste was agreed upon all around to be quite sweet. While this bread was very good, it received the title of “sandwich bread” and for that reason, it is in fourth place.
3rd Place: Sub Rosa Wood Fired Bakery
Located on N. 25th St. in Church Hill, Sub Rosa bakes all of its products in a huge wood-fired oven. The fire gives this bread a crisp outer crust, which made this the hardest bread to cut. Some felt this dark, sturdy crust was too hard and too cooked, taking away from the inside. Others felt the dark brown tones were perfect, the smell smoky and the texture a nice compliment to the softer inside.
Overall, everyone felt that the most noticeable smell from the bread was this smoky aroma. I personally wish that was a cologne I could wear, but let’s not get off topic here. The inside of this bread was chewy due to the massive amount of air pockets throughout, not necessarily a negative thing. It wasn’t as if there were giant empty areas inside the crust. It just means the yeast was active in a good way providing an airy bread. The taste on this bread was described as what you would get in a quality sourdough. One reviewer said it was a perfect holiday bread as it would be great for dips and things at a holiday party. “The charred outside and the chewy texture make for a wonderful taste,” said another reviewer. A good bread to be sure, but not the best on this day.
2nd Place: Billy Bread Bakery
The story of Billy Bread interests me. It started out baking one product: a loaf of bread that it sold to stores and restaurants. 17 years later, that’s still what they do — impressive.
Our loaf was a beautiful golden brown color. Dusted with a thin layer of flour, this crust elicited mixed reviews. All seemed to agree it was one of the harder crusts of the day, but we couldn’t seem to agree if that was good or not. Some felt that the hard crust meant you needed all your teeth to eat it and it may cut the roof of your mouth. Others felt it was exactly the crust the bread needed. One reviewer said it had a “good crust feel” while another just simply said, “Yes! :)” The smell seemed to please the crowd all around. Several reviewers felt it just had that “like a good bread” smell. One stated it had a good “stank” to it, which he explained to me was a compliment. Upon tasting, the three words that got thrown around the most were soft, chewy and moist. It was summed up by one reviewer as “soft, but substantial.” This bread garnered good feeling from everyone. It received a lot of praise.
1st Place: Idle Hands Bread Company
All the products that come out of this tiny bakery are naturally leavened. The place is about as big as most people’s living rooms (until they move to their new location in Jackson Ward, of course).
This loaf just looked pretty sitting on the cutting board. The crust was a nice brown color with just a dusting of flour. Reviewers found the crust to be thin but substantial. It wasn’t hard, but it had a crisp to it. It was stated that, “It’s a thin crust, but you know it’s there.” There wasn’t a single reviewer that put the same thing down for the smell of this bread even after general discussion in the group. Here’s a sampling of the adjectives and descriptions that floated around: “Yummy”, “Fresh”, “Mild”, “Like true ciabatta”, “Light fire smell”, “Tangy”, “Doesn’t smell as strong as the others” and “Very bread-like smell”.
I can agree with every single one of those statements. Moving from smell to taste, a lot of us got back on the same page. Reviewers found this bread to be soft and chewy with a mildly sour/tangy flavor to it. It was noted that this flavor “would pair well with so many things making it an ideal snacking bread.”
Overall, the reviews of this loaf were incredibly positive, with some even claiming it was the best bread of the day. Also heard: This bread is almost perfect” and “I would buy this bread on a regular basis.” Personally, I would bring this bread to a dinner party, serve with an intimate home cooked meal with a special someone or just use to make a banging sandwich. It was our Beast From The Yeast on this day.
Until Next Time
All the bread we tried was fantastic and any loaf would surely honor Richmond if served anywhere in the world. All of these bakeries should be proud of the product they put out as it is fantastic. Still, we had to find the one we loved the most. This task was not taken lightly and the discussion of pros and cons got intense at times, as we’ve come to expect from our food tastings. Once again, wonderful establishments of Richmond were able to provide us with a great meal with great friends. Isn’t that what breaking bread should be all about? Until next time my friends, may your crust be substantial and your inside airy, soft and tangy.