With many thanks to photographers Richard Smerdon, Bob Masucci and Jack Jacobs.
There are endless types of rye breads. From bland and boring styles that are just a Coppertone tan above Wonder Bread to dense, black styles that require a gym membership to lift off the plate.
There is Scandinavian rye, Baltic rye, Russian rye, Polish rye, German rye, Riga rye, New York rye and Montreal rye.
There is pumpernickel, poppy, sunflower and kimmel rye.
But never, in all of my many years in San Miguel de Allende, have I ever found a rye that I really enjoyed. But Don Day has readers. And sometimes my readers become writers and tip me off to the town’s hidden delights. And a few weeks ago Ethel Schwartzmann wrote to me about a certain San Miguel rye bread. And Ethel Schwartzmann sounded like someone who should know about good rye bread. So I did like I always do whenever a woman gives me advice (well, almost always), I took it.
I tried the rye and it was good. So good that I decided to invite 25 guys over for St. Patrick’s Day lunch and place it above and below some corned beef. As Don Day’s house was under construction, the ever amiable and always agreeable Jack Jacobs agreed to host and we were on.
The best corned beef in San Miguel is not store bought (maybe because, since the shop Productos Ahumados closed their doors, good store bought corned beef has become non existent in this town). The best corned beef comes from a trip for brisket to Calle Collegio which is butcher’s row in San Miguel and then a bath in Don Day’s Wife’s brine (which you can get the recipe for at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/corned-beef-recipe.html).
The beef you will want at the butcher shop is called pecho and the best part of the pecho is called punto. But it will not be like the full-of-marbled-fat point cut that those fortunate people north of the border enjoy on March 17. But, as lean as it is, it’s still very tender and tasty beef as long as you cut it against the grain.
That very good rye bread that you will place on both sides of that beef comes from a bakery called Buonforno and is called pan de centeno. Which happens to be in Colonia San Antonio, a part of San Miguel where there are now four artisan bakeries within two blocks of each other (please, one of you, consider a move up the hill).
Behind the counter you will find the ever delightful and the ever efficient Dancey (middle name Jasmine) Phillips. In front of the ovens in another location is Buonforno’s owner, Pedro Escamilla Maza, a guy I don’t think I’ve ever met but whose breads I enjoyed for a long time when he was the panadero at one of my favorite but now mostly forgotten restaurants, MiVida.
I emailed Pedro with a few questions about his rye, a bread that I quickly became to love because of its crustier than a disillusioned old expat exterior and its soft, exploding with caraway interior.
There are two ways you can make rye. One is with 100% rye flour which can give you that heavy Eastern European rye bread that only people whose grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe like or pretend to like. The other is with a combination of rye and wheat flour. Pedro Escamilla told me his rye bread is “made up of 30% wheat flour”.
Caraway seeds were originally added to rye bread, not for their flavor, but for their anti-flatulence properties. These days, I couldn’t imagine a rye without caraway.
There are two ways to include caraway seeds. The traditional way is with whole caraway seeds. The less traditional way is better. “We crush the caraway seeds for a more intense flavor”, Pedro Escamilla said.
I ordered four loaves of Buonformo rye from Dancey J. Phillips for St. Paddy’s Day. What impressed me even more than the inside of the bread was the outside. This is a crust that challenges every preconceived thought I’ve ever had of a rye crust. This is a crust so crispy that it challenged my very best bread knife.
If, like Don Day, you waste a lot of your time reading about food, you might know that the crustiest crust comes from adding steam to the oven. Pedro Escamilla confirmed to me that “The bread is baked with steam, and varnished with freezing water.”
I came home quite late from my Feast of St. Patrick’s Day lunch (yes, there was beer involved) and proceeded to tell Don Day’s Wife about Buonoforno’s rye. Her envy was the same color as her blouse as I shared the experience of eating that crust.
Though I have to pass four other very good bakeries to get to Buonforno, I’ve already been back a couple of times and I may have to go back again. The last thing Pedro Escamilla said in his email was “If you think our rye bread is good, you should try our multi-grain bread.” Soon, Pedro, soon.
Buonforno Casa de Arte y Pan is located at Stirling Dickinson 33 in San Miguel de Allende,