Bread is on the Rise in the Hudson Valley | Culinary Adventures | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
Pin It
Favorite

Bread is on the Rise in the Hudson Valley 

click to enlarge Kalamata olive bread at Bread & Bottle in Red Hook. - ROY GUMPEL
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Kalamata olive bread at Bread & Bottle in Red Hook.

It is morning in the Hudson Valley and the ovens are full of bread.

Long and crusty baguettes, sour and pungent rye, foccacia shot through with herbs and olives. Hearths are being fired, challah is being braided, sourdough starters are greedily devouring sugars as they ferment in buckets and tubs, expelling gassy bubbles into the morning air. The long, dark night of supermarket bread is over.

The last few years have seen an explosion in the number of artisanal bakeries in the Hudson Valley, putting quality breads in the eager hands of more and more people. But nestled high in the Shawangunk Mountains, one small town has been enjoying handmade breads for almost a hundred years.

The Postmaster's Pumpernickel

The Cohen family moved to Ellenville from the Bronx in 1920 and opened up Cohen's Bakery in a stately brick building downtown. There, they baked bread for generations of Ellenville residents, including their famous raisin pumpernickel bread: sweet and toothsome, the pumpernickel bread for people who think they hate pumpernickel.

click to enlarge Bill Tochterman and Megan Nolan at Cohen’s Bakery in Ellenville. - ROY GUMPEL
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Bill Tochterman and Megan Nolan at Cohen’s Bakery in Ellenville.

You can still walk into Cohen's Bakery today and buy a loaf of that pumpernickel, as well as rye breads, rugelach, and bagels made using the same recipe the bakery was using in 1920. It's an invaluable piece of the Hudson Valley's culinary history, and it was almost lost forever.

In 2003 Ruby Cohen, son of founder Harry Cohen and sole proprietor of the bakery for 45 years, was searching the Valley for someone to sell the bakery to. Perhaps it was a symptom of the low-carb Atkins craze that was inexplicably sweeping the country at the time, but no one wanted to buy it. It fell to Bill Tochterman, Ellenville's retired postmaster, to step in and buy the bakery in order to keep it from closing down. Today, Cohen's Bakery is operating in much the same way it has been for the past 94 years, with a few exceptions. They now make a line of low-gluten breads for the ever-increasing number of customers who have difficulty tolerating gluten. And in addition to their wholesale business, they ship their famous breads all over the world, especially to former customers and Ellenville residents who have left the Hudson Valley. As Andrea Smith, who runs the bakery's wholesale and shipping business, explains, "I mail a lot of bread to Florida."

click to enlarge ROY GUMPEL
  • Roy Gumpel

An Early Leader

Cohen's Bakery was one of the Valley's few outposts of artisanal, handmade bread for years until Daniel Leader opened up Bread Alone in Boiceville in the early 1980s. Originally a chef working in some of New York City's finest French restaurants, be became bored with what he called "fancy food for high society." When the restaurants closed for August vacation every year, he'd follow his French colleagues back to their home country. It was in France that Leader fell in with a group of bakers and discovered his true calling. "I really like food that everyone can enjoy," he says. "Bread crosses all economic lines, all cultural lines, all ethnic lines. Everyone seems to love bread."

There wasn't anyplace else in the Hudson Valley selling organic, European-style breads when Bread Alone opened in 1983. He wasn't sure how people would react to his bread. Unbeknownst to him, there was a hidden customer base just begging to be tapped into. "We were fortunate because back in the '80s there were a lot more Europeans with second homes in the Catskills," he says. "Most of our original customers were Polish, Russian, French, or Italian. They immediately got it. I didn't have to educate them."

Bread Alone quickly grew into a miniempire, adding locations in Woodstock and Rhinebeck and distributing their bread to markets and restaurants throughout the region. Today, Leader is considered one of the country's preeminent bakers, has written several celebrated books for home bakers, and has managed to successfully scale up Bread Alone's production capabilities without any sacrifice of flavor or integrity. "We've been very disciplined about our production," Leader says. "Actually, I think our product is better than ever now."

click to enlarge ROY GUMPEL
  • Roy Gumpel

Sheila Buff, author of the recently published A Food Lover's Guide To The Hudson Valley, agrees. "I think it helps that they really only do bread," she says. "They don't do too many cakes, cookies, whatever. When you focus on just making bread, you're going to get a better product."

Buff credits Bread Alone with whetting the Hudson Valley's appetite for artisanal bread, as well as the steady increase of farmer's markets throughout the past 30 years. "People began having more access to good bread through the markets, instead of having go all the way to the bakery," she says.

Related Locations

Speaking of...

Pin It
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Farm to Fork Fondo

    Cycling, cider, and community meet in this two-day event, featuring an 11-mile bike ride, the Ramble Ride, winding through Warwick's countryside.
    • Jun 1, 2016
  • Historic Tavern Trail of the Hudson Valley

    Historic Tavern Trail events, which combine local drinks, history and food, occur monthly. The next event will be held on July 29 at Painter's Restaurant.
    • Jul 1, 2016

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Bicentennial Celebration & Pick Your Own @ Prospect Hill Orchards

Bicentennial Celebration & Pick Your Own

Sat., Sept. 23 and Sun., Sept. 24 — Family-friendly, fun activities for all ages. During the Bicentennial Celebration, guests can...
Hudson Valley Vegfest @ Gold's Gym

Hudson Valley Vegfest

Sat., Sept. 23, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sun., Sept. 24, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. — A big festival celebrating everything awesome about Vegan Living: Incredible Food, Animal...

View all of today's events

Latest in Culinary Adventures

  • Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest – September 9-10, DC Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck
  • Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest – September 9-10, DC Fairgrounds, Rhinebeck

    Taste hundreds of wines from all over New York, sample craft beers and distilled spirits. Shop for gourmet specialty foods, fine crafts and home goods. Feast from unique food trucks and learn from cooking demonstrations. Discount tickets available online at HudsonValleyWineFest.com.
    • Aug 10, 2017
  • 27th Annual Taste of New Paltz
  • 27th Annual Taste of New Paltz

    More than just food, the Taste of New Paltz includes beautiful art, carefully crafted jewelry, health and wellness, stroll the business showcase, enjoy live music and demonstrations. Family Friendly-bring the family for a fun day outdoors featuring many children events. Pony rides, magicians, petting zoo, and face painting.
    • Aug 3, 2017
  • A Skyway Classic Corn Roast & Homecoming Fit for a Chili King
  • A Skyway Classic Corn Roast & Homecoming Fit for a Chili King

    Skyway Camping Resort celebrates its annual Skyway Classic Corn Roast/ Chili Cook-Off & Homecoming on August 26, 2017. Enjoy fresh, local roasted corn, cook up your chili recipe and enter it in the cook-off, and enjoy live party music in the early evening.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • More »

Related to Culinary Adventures

  • Kids in the Bakery
  • Kids in the Bakery

    Frida’s Bakery in Milton are hosting regular Sunday kids’ classes where you can make treats like ice cream and pop tarts, decorate cookies and cupcakes, and try your hand at making pizza, pretzels, and dinner rolls.
    • Feb 15, 2016
  • Sharing the Kitchen with Teens
  • Sharing the Kitchen with Teens

    On November 7th, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park is throwing open its doors to parents and teens who want to take their kitchen skills up a notch.
    • Nov 2, 2015
  • More »

More by Brian PJ Cronin

Hudson Valley Tweets