By Marykate Smith Despres, Photos by Dominic Perri
When people think of rye bread, they often think of deli rye. The deli rye I grew up with, even when bought bagged from the grocery store, yielded rounded, half-moon, gray-brown slices that stood (a bit stiffly) in stark contrast to the floppy, bleached white squares of typical sandwich bread. The bread I remember likely had very little actual rye flour, but what it did have—and what kept me from eating it—was caraway seeds.
Brian Meunier, head baker and owner of Rise Above bakery, which opened in downtown Greenfield this June, uses a lot of rye flour, which, he says “adds a slight nuance” of flavor to breads and pastries. It’s caraway, not rye, Meunier says, that “has ruined rye for most people.”
“I’m trying to set that straight. I want people to know that rye and caraway are not the same thing. If you don’t like caraway,” he says, “you can still like rye.”
In the absence of caraway seeds, it’s color (Meunier describes it as a “deep brown or reddish hue”) that signals a bread with a lot of rye flour. Another clue can be weight, as in a dense Roggenbrot—one of many Eastern European rye breads you’ll find at Rise Above-one of many breads with a story.
“People who grew up with this bread, it really means something special to them,” Meunier says. He’s seen it in the way people’s faces light up when they see these traditional breads on the rack at the bakery, the recognition upon feeling the weight of a full kilo of bread in hand. The remembering that happens, and the ways in which that remembering becomes stories shared over a loaf of bread—a Latvian woman at a record store in Somerville transported back to her childhood, a man returning to the bakery with an armful of German and Austrian cookbooks and an offer to translate, a woman sharing her experience learning to bake Roggenbrot under master baker Jeffery Hamelman in Brattleboro in the ’80s—becomes what Meunier describes as “a religious experience.”
“I love that I can connect with people in ways beyond that it tastes good,” he says. “I fell in love with the bread and then fell in love with all these people’s connection to it.”
Rye isn’t the only way Meunier connects with the community. He bakes other well-loved staple breads including baguette, brioche, and challah, plus bagels, muffins, cookies, and a host of pastries that often feature fruits from local farms like Clarkdale just down the road in Deerfield.
And while patrons sit and enjoy local coffee (or kombucha) with their baked goods and their little ones pop in and out of the puppet theater, the bakers work in an open kitchen with café-facing ovens so that people can “see it, hear it, smell it.”
“We’re back there making a mess, flour all over. We make noise. We listen to rock ’n’ roll,” Meunier says. He doesn’t want to hide or separate the process from the product, or from the people tearing pieces and taking bites of that product straight from the bag. “I want you to know that everything’s happening right here.”