Is this America’s Very Best Rye?

“America’s very best rye? No contest. It comes from Zingerman’s Bakehouse.” —Jane and Michael Stern

Jane and Michael Stern rated the Bakehouse’s rye bread the best in the country this past spring in Saveur magazine. Having long respected their palates, read their articles, listened to their radio shows and known them for many years now, I was really happy to have their support. But in honesty, what they were saying is what I’ve already long since believed to be true—the Jewish rye at the Bakehouse has been pretty amazing since we started making it back in 1992. And for whatever reasons of technique, nuance, and delicate touch, it seems to just keep on getting better and better with each passing year.

If you haven’t been to the Bakehouse or the Deli, we do a whole range of ryes—one we call Jewish rye (without the caraway seeds), a caraway rye, and one with onions. My favorite this year though has very clearly been the caraway rye, in particular the really large 2-kilo loaves that we only make on Fridays. Friday, if you didn’t already know, is Ryeday. And pretty much every Friday I try to get a quarter or half of one of those big, beautiful loaves to get me through the next week. Bigger loaves, quite simply, have a better, moister texture. And they taste better. And, kept in the paper bag we pack them in, the big loaves last easily for a week or longer. Then there’s my affection for caraway. For some reason, I like the little seeds more and more with each passing year. There’s something about the aromatics, the small hint of anise it offers and the almost-but-not-quite-fennelly flavor that makes the rye all the more interesting to me. A chunk ripped from a fresh loaf and eaten, as is, is really a pretty marvelous thing. Better still, thick cut slices spread with a lot of butter. Add some good jam and you’ve seriously got a world-class breakfast in about two minutes. The same slice is equally excellent with a thick layer of the Creamery’s old style, no vegetable gum, no preservatives cream cheese. And of course, it’s all also amazing if you toast the bread—it’s almost worth toasting for the aroma alone. And, last but definitely not least, there’s the obvious opportunity to use it for sandwiches of all sorts. Great for grilled cheese and, of course, on the classic corned beef or pastrami sandwich.

[If you’re going the butter route, try the Irish Kerrygold cultured butter in the silver foil wrapper—made only when the cows are grazing in the pastures which makes for a noticeably more flavorful, more golden in color (more beta carotene), softer-textured butter. Because the cream is allowed to properly ripen—as per rarely used traditional techniques—the butter develops a fuller flavor. Really remarkable stuff.]

As a bread lover, seriously, I can’t think of a better gift than a 2-kilo loaf beautifully wrapped in nice paper and tied with a string. Save the sweaters—I’ll take bread any day!