When you serve cheese, you need bread. Over a dozen years ago, that simple imperative led Bobolink Dairy, already renowned for its artisan cheeses, to build a wood-fired oven to bake rustic breads to go with their rustic cheeses. Today, Boblink's oven produces 17 varieties of bread made from largely local and organic grains. Thanks to the bakers' commitment to small batch, naturally leavened doughs, these loaves have a richness of flavor and texture that stands out in the city's crowded bread market.
Bobolink's founders, Nina and Jonathan White, met back in the 90s when he was a cheesemaker and she was a waitress who made her own yogurt and baked her own bread. In 2002, they bought a farm in Vernon, New Jersey, where Nina began the bread program in an Alan Scott-designed brick oven. (They've since moved their operation, and oven, to another farm in Milford, NJ.) From the start, Nina has used organic flour, and she was one of the first to employ local grains from Pennsylvania and New York State. Her starters have an intense, fresh yet sour aroma, including one that was inaugurated back in 2003 with a bottle of my favorite beer, Saison Dupont.
For years, my favorite Bobolink bread was the Medieval Rye ($4.50 per lb), which comes in six-pound loaves made from organic rye and wheat flour, organic oat flour, natural leaven, and salt. They're so massive that you can imagine them being hurled at some walled city by Medieval siege machines. Once you bite into a slice, however, you realize what a waste that would be. This is food that's made from real flour and real starters and tastes like it was alive. It also comes in versions made with big cloves of garlic or Kalamata olives, but I prefer the plain for its unabashed rye flavor.
Lately, I've been seduced by some of the other loaves on the Bobolink menu, particularly the Flax Seed Armadillo ($6). From the name, you expect something spiky and hard to digest. But this loaf actually goes down smoothly—you can't stop eating it. It's made from wheat and rye flours, natural leavening, flax seeds, salt, and yeast, producing a perfectly-balanced, medium dense loaf with a rich wheat flavor backed by a little nuttiness from the flax.
The closest Bobolink comes to white bread is Rustic Wheat ($5.50), which reminds you what white bread could be. It's made from stone ground wheat flour, organic corn flour, organic oats, salt, and yeast. The corn adds a touch of sweetness and yellow color to the crumb. A slice is dense and full of flavor, perfect for toasting. Nina calls it "Mommy bread," because you can slip it onto the plates of picky eaters and they won't notice that it's healthy and nutritious.
Bobolink has way too many loaves to fit into one review. However, I do have to mention the Red Fife Baguette ($3) that bears no resemblance to the Parisian loaf except for shape. It's a dense little loaf made from red fife, a nutty heirloom wheat. The Cranberry-Walnut Breadstick ($4) is based on the Medieval Rye dough and perfect for cheese. And the apple biscuit ($2.75) is made from wheat flour, farm-made whey or local butter, apples, cinnamon, sugar, and baking soda—rich and delicious.
Available at the Union Square (Fridays) and Lincoln Center (Thursdays and Saturdays) Greenmarkets.