Spotlight on West County

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.’

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LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Michele Wimborough, co-owner of Hazel Restaurant, dishes on Occidental

Where is your favorite place to eat in Occidental and why?

When we’re not working and cooking (which is not very often!), we love Howard’s for healthy breakfasts and sandwiches from Bohemian Market—especially the Monster. And the takeout pizza from the Union Motel. I also have to shamelessly plug our restaurant. We have been open for two and a half years now and couldn’t be more thrilled with our decision to leave the big city for tiny-town living.

Where do you take first-time visitors to Occidental?

We love to do a drive down Coleman Valley to the ocean and back around through Bodega Bay to get a full appreciation of this amazing area.

What do you know about Occidental that others don’t?

Occidental is home to the friendliest people we’ve ever met! Must be something about all the fresh air that makes people genuinely happy to be here.

If you could change one thing about Occidental what would it be?

Can’t think of a thing!

Hazel Restaurant, 3782 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental. 707.874.6003.

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THINGS TO DO IN WEST COUNTY

Occidental Community Choir

A west Sonoma County cultural signpost for almost 40 years, the Occidental Community Choir is unique in the region in that it performs music composed almost entirely by its own members. These choral pieces act as a mirror to the community’s experience in a personal and identifiable way. Earlier this year, longtime choir member and former director Sarah Saulsbury once again took the reigns of the 40-plus-member group. Now, in line with the holiday season, the OCC presents its annual winter concert, this year titled “Alleluia Anyway,” that reflects on the hardships of the last year while also signifying the need to celebrate all the lights of kindness and community support that continue to shine in the darkness. After a sing-along opening last weekend, the Occidental Community Choir performs its inspiring new program on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8–9, at the Occidental Center for the Arts, at 8pm, and Sunday, Dec. 10, at Glaser Center in Santa Rosa at 3pm. $15. occidentalchoir.org.

Occidental Holiday Crafts Faire

Since 1986, the festive, locally sourced Occidental Holiday Crafts Faire has raised money for the area’s nonprofits while also offering residents a chance to find one-of-a-kind crafts from dozens of vendors in every range of style and medium. Artisans include the likes of Saraba African Art, Jungle Maiden Jewelry, Berkana Publications and over 30 other crafters and designers. The holiday happening also boasts a raffle, plenty of food vendors and fresh baked goods from Salmon Creek School students. Run by the all-volunteer, nonprofit group the Occidental Community Council, the fair takes place in the heart of town, meaning it’s also a perfect opportunity to stroll Main Street and check out the other independent shops and stops in Occidental. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 9–10, at Occidental Community Center, 3920 Bohemian Hwy. Saturday, 10am to 5pm; Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Free. occidental-ca.org.

Sonoma Canopy Tours

Sure, you’ve “seen” the redwoods—but have you seen them while gliding through the air on a thrilling zip line ride? If not, acquaint yourself with the Sonoma Canopy Tours, a recreational adventure offered in the wooded hills of west Occidental. Each of the two courses promises two-and-a-half hours of sky-high activity, all with an experienced guide to keep you secure. The adventure packages are located within the Alliance Redwoods conference grounds, which has facilitated zip line, high ropes and challenge courses for students within the framework of environmental education programs since the 1970s. This gift-giving season, the canopy tours is playing secret Santa and giving away a gift card to those in need for every one sold through Dec. 17. 6250 Bohemian Hwy., Occidental. Open daily. Adults, $99–$129; seniors, $89–$119; children, $69–$99. sonomacanopytours.com.

Osmosis
Festival of Lights

A sanctuary in western Sonoma County, Osmosis Day Spa neighbors Occidental in the unincorporated community of Freestone, and it’s a particularly peaceful escape from the stresses of modern life. Osmosis is perhaps best known for offering one of the only cedar enzyme baths and footbaths in the country, and its masterfully designed meditation gardens and Japanese tea gardens are a perfect setting for relaxation and rejuvenation. This month, Osmosis invites the public to see for themselves at two seasonal events. First, the Osmosis Festival of Lights sparkles with holiday cheer and includes cedar footbaths, mini-massages, fire-dancing performances, live music, specialty shop items and cheese and wine sampling. Wednesday, Dec. 13, 5pm. $30. Next, the spa’s Winter Solstice Sound Healing Ceremony connects guests to the season and surrounding nature through a mindful observance marked by gongs and other instruments. Thursday, Dec. 21, 9am. Free; $15 footbath and sound therapy included. 209 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone. RSVP required. osmosis.com.

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