- RISING LOAFERS The oven that produces Wild Flour Bread's sought-after baked goods is wood-fired and reaches 1,250 degrees.
Inside Freestone's one-of-a-kind Wild Flour bakery
West Sonoma County's iconic Wild Flour bakery doesn't advertise. Word-of-mouth is all the bakery and its adjoining gardens need.
Granted, there's a website that's updated regularly with days and hours of operation. It's closed from Jan. 2 to Jan. 18 for winter break. What's noticeable about the bakery's website (wildflourbread.com) is its frequent use of the pronoun "we," as in "We are located in beautiful Freestone Valley" and "We want to meet out customers, we do not wholesale, ship or franchise."
That's all true. They don't make bakeries like Wild Flour anymore, or if they do, they're as rare as Gravenstein apples in December or Bodega Reds months after the potato harvest.
Yes, the founder has his photo on the website. "Owner and baker, Jed Wallach, is often behind the counter," the text reads. But there's no biographical information about him and no testimonials either. That's the way he wants it. In fact, he has always wanted the breads and scones to speak for themselves. They speak loudly and clearly, and they travel far and wide. Locals and tourists line up four days a week, Friday through Monday, from 8am to 6pm. They buy the sticky buns, the fougasse, which is packed with cheese and onions, and the famous Bohemian, a loaf with bits of apricot, orange and pecan.
Then there are the scones in a variety of flavors: white chocolate, double chocolate, ginger, espresso and hazelnut. The coffee makes the baked goods taste doubly good. There's no yeast, no baking powder and no baking soda in Wild Flour loaves. It's probably no exaggeration to say that the breads and the scones are made with love, though the sourdough, as the word itself suggests, adds that unmistakable sour taste. Most of the breads have a hard crust and are soft and moist inside.
Desiree Kavanagh, known as Desi, has been a mainstay ever since she was 23. "I remember that I arrived on March 18, 2002," Kavanagh says. "I was just looking for a job. But it has been my passion for years."
Born in Willits and now a Santa Rosa resident, Kavanagh has done everything there is to do at Wild Flour, from mixing the four essential ingredients (flour, water, salt and the sourdough starter) to managing the place and training new employees, like India Isaac and John Grotting, both 25.
Grotting came to Freestone from Colorado where he studied at the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts and learned to make cakes.
"Working here is exactly what I've wanted to do," he says. "You need strong hands and you get to know how the dough should look, feel and smell. You don't want it stiff and you don't want it to stick to your hands."
Everyone works hard, especially the bakers who start their days at 4:30am. But perhaps the real workhorse is the brick oven that heats up, with seasoned eucalyptus, to 1,250 degrees and then cools down to 575, the optimal temperature for baking. The oven is fussy and changes its needs with the seasons. "You can't just follow a recipe," says Kavanagh. "You have to evaluate each day and think about the kind of bread you're baking."
When work is done she takes a loaf home. "The breads are almost a whole meal," she says. "They sustain me through the day."
For 19 years customers have echoed her sentiments.
Wild Flour Bread, 140 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone. 707.874.2938. Jonah Raskin is the author of 'Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.'