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11.04.09

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Phaedra

WELCOMING: General manager Elisa Weber, center, with Vanessa Pritchard and Elena Miska.

Love and Magic

Della Fattoria's bread is raised by farm and family

By Tori Masucci


Elisa Weber grew up on the 14-acre ranch in Petaluma that her grandfather bought back in 1940. To this day, the Webers continue to grow gardens and raise livestock on the land. Yet the Weber's real story should be told from the inside—where the smell of coffee and baked bread wafts through the kitchen of their Petaluma cafe, Della Fattoria.

Entering Della Fattoria is like entering a home of sorts, where friends sit across from one another, telling stories and catching up on the latest chitchat over rich espressos and warm, flaky cinnamon rolls dripping with sweet syrup and crushed walnuts. As the morning sun shines through the front windows, the cowbell tied to the door chimes and regular patrons buzz by to grab a few baguettes or a loaf of their favorite artisan ciabatta.

Della Fattoria has the charm of a small European cafe; its inviting atmosphere can be attributed to the Webers' emphasis on upholding the basics: family and food.

"We live together and work together," Elisa says. "The cafe is like an extension of our home. Everyone cooks in our family; the kitchen is where everyone gathers. That's where the love and magic happens. Cooking together is important, because it's what we love to do."

Della Fattoria, appropriately translated as "from the farm," is indeed a family affair. Elisa is the cafe's general manager, her brother, Aaron, is the head baker, and their parents, Kathleen and Edmund, run the wholesale bread distribution on their farm, as well as the farmers markets where their bread is sold on Thursdays in Marin and Saturdays in San Francisco.

A lengthy list of restaurants and grocery stores, from Santa Rosa's chic Syrah Bistro to Whole Foods in Mill Valley, now carry Della's bread for its organic, handmade quality. Straight from the wood-fired brick ovens that evenly cook the bread using retained heat, Della Fattoria makes anywhere from 300 to 1,000 loaves of bread each day, based on distribution needs.

"We are quite a small production compared to most bakeries, but it takes a lot of hands and its very labor-intensive. You have to be very patient. You can't rush the bread," Kathleen explains. In 1994, she created a natural starter of organic flour, water and a cluster of grapes from their ranch. The next morning, the slurry was bubbling, the scientific foundation to an art that became their bread-baking business, which first ran from their home on the ranch, until Edmund found the space downtown a decade later.

What makes their bread so special? To that, Aaron—still wearing his apron as he steps out of the kitchen—responds, "The care that goes into it. We don't pay a bunch of underwaged workers to come in and make our products for us. We all tend to it. I think that matters a lot. A lot of other bakeries use mixers, and dividers or shapers, or machines that put it in the oven. We do everything by hand, the way it was done for hundreds of years."

Baking the bread is a 24-hour cycle, from heating the ovens to infusing the dough with the original starter—or as the Webers refer to it, "the mother"—which is still used as a natural leaven for their breads. It is fed twice a day with organic flour and pure well water "to keep it happy," as Aaron quips.

The Webers are very careful with their bread; they know its behavior, down to the way it responds differently to the touch of a newly hired baker's hands. "So many things can go wrong that impact the bread, especially the weather, the temperature or even how it is handled," Elisa says.

Yet Kathleen points out the rare beauty of their loaves from the hearth. "Our customers know that our bread is consistently inconsistent," she says. "It's consistently good, but on some days it can be taller or darker, or the shape of loaves can be a little different, but it's all done by hand, so they appreciate that."

But bread isn't the only thing Della Fattoria gets right. The cafe bustles with friends enjoying savory breakfasts, dinners and weekend brunches. "It comes down to starting with the best ingredients and locally, organically farmed produce. It's really important to us," Elisa says. "We support our community, because without farms, we'd have no food. I wouldn't think of anything else. If you're setting out so many wonderful products, you have to start with the best ingredients. We can't cut corners."

As conscious protectors of the environment, the Webers take all of their compost, from coffee grounds to vegetable scraps, back to the ranch to feed the chicken and sheep or enrich the garden's soil. It's a continual circle of nourishment.

"Giving back to the earth and to the community is a really key thing to have in your life. It's the idea of not being a taker and not adding to the landfills, but instead taking an active role and trying to make the world a better place," Elisa says.

Although the changes in the economy have impacted their business—the price of flour has tripled in price within the last few years—the Webers deem themselves fortunate to have such a good standing in the community, enabling them to put that extra finesse into the quality of their food.

Amid a bustling lunch crowd, Kathleen beams. "For all of us, it's a lifestyle. We're doing something we really enjoy. We enjoy people, we love preparing food, and we love baking our bread. It's just that sort of wonderment of doing something that someone else really appreciates. Food is kind of a social equalizer. If you can cook a good meal, anyone can appreciate that."


Everything That Rises

Alexis Baking Company and Cafe Alexis excels at baked goods, like their "Best Damn Lemon Cake" and offers killer breakfasts and sensible soup 'n' salad lunches. Their diverse bread choices include tomato basil, walnut wheat, challah or buttermilk dill. 1517 Third St., Napa. 707.258.1827.

Basque Boulangerie Cafe The Boulangerie serves up fresh grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches on toasted French bread like nobody's business. Local sweet tooths also swear by their cinnamon raisin bread. 460 First St. E., Sonoma. 707.935.7687.

Bovine Bakery If the adage "you are what you eat" is true, Bovine Bakery is unsuitably named, because everything about this small treasure on the main street of Pt. Reyes Station is the opposite of dull. Lured by the smell of coffee and delectable pastries, customers also line up each morning for a bite of their fresh, vegan bread. 11315 Shoreline Hwy., Point Reyes Station. 415.663.9420.

Cousteaux French Bakery If a taste of Cousteaux French Bakery's multigrain batard does not leave its customers praising the dough gods "en Franšais," the fact that it has won Best of Show for the last three consecutive years at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair will. Handcrafted and hearty, their famous loaves are risen proof that the French know their bread. 417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.1913.

Downtown Bakery & Creamery Old-fashioned is not always a bad thing—at least not when it comes to good bread. Downtown Bakery and Creamery in Healdsburg stands by this belief, with everything from hearty sandwich rolls to French sweet breads among their most popular fares. 308-A Center St., Healdsburg. 707.431.2719.

Full Circle Baking Right over the railroad tracks in Penngrove lies this small treasure trove of a bakery. Their baking process—beginning with milling their own flour and ending with distributing to farmers markets and grocery stores like Oliver's—truly does come full circle. 10151 Main St., Penngrove, 707.794.9445.

The Model Bakery Keeping the carbomaniacs happy for over 80 years, the Model Bakery sets the standard for beautiful loaves of hearth-baked seeded sourdough and garlic cheese baguettes. 1357 Main St., St. Helena. 707.963.8192.

Tomales Bakery Devotees know to get there early because they close when the good stuff's sold out. 27000 Hwy. 1, Tomales. 707.87.2429.

Village Bakery The only place in wine country that makes Scandinavian goodies and organic Danish breads, Village Bakery is a rare treat. Try the Kernebrod, a honest-to-goodness rye bread generously doused with poppy, flax and sunflower seeds. 1445 Town and Country Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.527.7654.

Wild Flour Bread Set in the tiny town of Freestone on the way to Bodega Bay, Wild Flour Bread is an eclectic bakery well-known for its organic sourdough-based loaves. With names like "Jungle bread," infused with bananas, walnuts and cardamom, Wild Flour's as wildly pleasing as its name denotes. 140 Bohemian Hwy., Freestone, 707.874.2938.

—T.M.


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