The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

SF sourdough beyond SF? Impossible?

kimemerson's picture

SF sourdough beyond SF? Impossible?

Just curious - or I'm a trouble maker...
Though not alone in the industry, Bread Alone, Dan Leader's bread company in New York's Hudson Valley, makes both a "San Fransisco" and "French" sourdough breads. Not a whole lot of difference between the two as far as ingredients go; the French adds spelt and another small bit of flour which I can't recall right now. But otherwise, from the label, there's no difference.

My question is this: How in the world can anyone make the claim to be making S.F.S.D. if they are not in S.F.? Even if they started out with a real sample of Boudin's sourdough starter, if it's being made here in New York then it's NY sourdough, yes? If I take my own NY sourdough starter and I move to SF and keep it alive, then eventually I too have SFSD. Maybe not Boudin's famous, but as authentic a SFSD as is ever possible, and not at all possible beyond SF.

So, I just want either confirmation of this or some rebuttal. 

But really, how does anyone get away with calling their sourdough as being from anywhere where it's not?

I understand the concept of marketing and uniqueness. If SFSD is unique (likely due to its air and water) then maybe it makes sense to market it. Branding can usually do a good job of elevating even mediocre merchandise into a desired product. Doesn't have to be good to sell well if marketing is up to snuff. Bread freaks might want to visit Boudin's when traveling to SF but they would be fooling themselves if they brought home a sample of their starter and believed they were going to replicate it back home. Hell, Boudin himself can't do that.

Boudin's claims to be using the same starter they started out with over 100 years ago. But it really isn't 100 years old, is it.? It may have been kept alive and fed all that time but it's modern flour and water eventually diluting the original strain into non-existence. My own starters are 8 & 9 years old. But really, aren't they only as old as the most recent feeding? More or less?

Abe's picture

Out of the thousands of years baking sourdough no one thought of 10% wholegrain and 20% starter?  

And it's been proven that the special SF starter yeast/bacteria is present in starters all over the world! 

We know a lot more about sourdough now and while there are variations within our starters, naturally only the yeasts and bacteria capable of inhabiting a starter can do so and it is limited. 

The world has thousands of years of sourdough history long before San Francisco was on a map. I think it's more marketing. 

A place can make claim to unique recipes and traditions. Nothing else.  

I think a starter can be called years old. We too change all our cells every few years but we're still the same person. 

kimemerson's picture

So what would you say Bread Alone - or anyone, really - is doing by saying they make a SFSD? Are they or aren't they?

And, while I agree to an extent that a starter can be called years old, I'd also argue that it can't. What I started out with 9 years ago is not what I have now. I only built it once, those 9 years ago. But it is no longer the same batch. I understand the strain concept, that even if I manage to get my starter down to a thimble full I can grow it to pounds of the stuff just from that thimble full and that it will share the same starter DNA as my older stuff. But I will still only have a thimble full of original starter and from there on that trace of old starter will diminish. To the point that eventually nothing I have is actually much older than the last few feedings. I seems to me not so much, as with ourselves, we change our cells but remain the same person, as it is we may be related to our distant and ancient relatives but we aren't the same at all. I may be related to my Irish great-great-great grandfather but there have been enough alterations and dilutions over the years that no one would confuse the two of us. So, yes, I am part of his ancient strain but I am a new entity entirely. I'm not Irish and I'm not 200 years old. Much the way no one outside San Fransisco has a San Fransisco sourdough starter and is not in any way shape or form making SFSD, and no one has a starter that is hundreds of years old. 

Roger Lambert's picture
Roger Lambert

The bacteria that creates the "Lactic Acid" come in various strains.  The SF bacteria is unique to the SF area.  The dough is fermented in an open environment more or less and the SF bacteria is in that air.  Since bacteria multiply by division, the same strain will always be there but if another strain gets in, there is now competition for dominance over the food source.  If you have the SF starter in another area/country, the open air will introduce the dominant strain from that area and eventually win over for the food source.  I use probiotic capsules for my sour dough and ferment it in a Yogurt maker.  Works every time and I get the amount of "sour" that I want without problems.

dabrownman's picture

SF LAB are found all over the world.  Nothing Unique to SF at all.  But there are many at least 3 dozen each of acid tolerant LAB and yeast found in SD starters all over the world too, even in SF,

suave's picture

"How in the world can anyone make the claim to be making S.F.S.D. if they are not in S.F.?

Anyone can call anything SFSD.  I can grab a bag of hot dogs at Walmart and call it SFSD if choose so.  There's no law against that. 

kimemerson's picture

Sure, but that's not what I meant. 

dabrownman's picture

and if you make a loaf in that style you call it what it is.  As luck would have ti the style of SFSD has changed in the city over the past 50 years and it sin't what it once was so just about about any mostly white bread using SD starter qualifies:-)  Even today the wide range of SFSD breads available in the city varies quite bit form dark to lightly baked from sour to not very sour.

SFSD of old, from before the gold rush in 1849, was brought to the city by folks from New Orleans who settled there after being driven out of Canada's Arcadia. They were French Cajuns as a result and that is why French SD resembles SFSD - because it came from France through Canada and New Orleans by French descendants long ago.  The other group that brought SD to SF were the Italians.  But their SD resembled French SD since Italians were the ones who brought SD to France in the first place.  The Italians learned SD from the Greeks and Greeks learned it from the Egyptians which is why all SD is very similar all over the world today.  Like Abe said, some SD bakers, of the millions of them over the thousands of years, created pretty much everything we know about bread long, long ago.

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

I agree - it is a style thing.  Happens with all kids of food NY pizza or bagel, Chicago pizza, philly cheesesteak. Kentucky fried chicken and what store doesn't sell "french bread" -