Bread has been under attack for nearly 50 years now. Beginning in 1972, with the publication of Dr. Robert Atkins’ treatise on the alleged virtues of eating meat and cutting out carbs. Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution demonized bread and championed a high-protein diet. While the book languished in obscurity at first, it gained serious traction in the late ’90s and early ’00s. After an updated version of his original book was released in 1997 it topped the New York Times best-sellers list for more than five years.

The Atkins name now competes with a number of other carbo-phobic diets, such as the keto and paleo meal plans—and then, of course, there is the anti-gluten movement, which can be life altering for some with certain conditions, but which has also been adopted by plenty of folks without gluten sensitivity thanks to celebrity endorsements from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow.

But bread is our friend—and it has been for quite some time. Archaeologists know that bread was the cornerstone of the ancient Egyptian diet. At its height, the Roman Empire established a free grain dole for citizens with the aim of fostering stability across its sprawling territory. Conversely, when bread shortages reached a critical point in France in the late 18th century, the people rioted in the streets and set the stage for the French Revolution. It was only after a revolution of another sort that bread began its transformation from hero to villain.

Before the Industrial Revolution all bread was essentially a “sourdough,” meaning it was naturally fermented. The fermentation process has many health benefits, aids in digestion and gives bread delicious tang. However, there’s just one caveat: it takes time.

The average slice of Wonder Bread has more than 30 separate ingredients. Many of the additives found in this type of bread were put there to speed up production and increase shelf life. They include calcium sulfate (a.k.a. gypsum), which is essentially plaster, and calcium propionate which has been shown to cause ulcers, migraines and behavioral problems in children.

Fortunately, in addition to bringing us hand-painted signs, reclaimed wood and farm-to-table meat and veggies, the back-to-the-land movement that has been sweeping into big cities across the country has also spurred a new generation of artisan bakers who are rejecting machine-made “bread”—opting instead for the good, old-fashioned method of flour, water, salt and yeast.

In downtown San Jose, Meteora Bakehouse (a.k.a. 2nd Story Bakeshop) cooks up fresh loaves daily, while the Brunello family, owners of the local chain Le Boulanger, have been serving up their family’s San Francisco sourdough recipe for nearly a century.

Then there is Manresa Bread, an offshoot of chef David Kinch’s three Michelin-starred Manresa restaurant (which recently reopened after a devastating fire). At Manresa Bread, head baker Avery Ruzicka has been slowly churning out hand-crafted artisan loaves since 2013 at their commissary bakery close to downtown Los Gatos.

“All of our bread is a sourdough,” Ruzicka says with pride as she shows me her giant collection of freshly fed yeasts. They obsessively feed all their yeast starters (or “mothers” as they are called) on a regimented schedule. Bakers work in shifts, 24 hours a day, coddling the cultures, as they are the lifeblood of Manresa’s business.

“I’m not turning my nose up at commercially yeasted bread,” Ruzicka says. “Any bread that anybody’s taken time and energy to make is going to be million times better than what you’d get at the grocery store. But here we are trying to make all naturally leavened bread using our fresh-milled organic flours.”

Manresa mills 90 percent of their all-organic grains in-house, using their own mill, which they acquired this past spring. “Milling our own flour is important, because we feel it increases the flavor, improves the texture and crumb,” Ruzicka explains. “It gives us more control in the creative process. We can decide how coarse, or fine, we mill the flour, which dramatically changes the hydration level and the final crumb of our breads.”

Manresa Bread has two brick-and-mortar locations (Los Gatos and Los Altos) to go along with their weekly appearances at the downtown Campbell and Palo Alto farmers markets. They are also slated to open a third brick-and-mortar location this fall—this time it will be an all-day café, and feature some exciting new offerings such as sandwiches, pastries and seasonal specials to go along with their classic sourdoughs. They are even planning on featuring a sourdough doughnut.

I wanted to know why Ruzicka goes to such lengths to make something as simple as bread, when there are so many shortcuts bakers can take to produce loaves.

“Well, number one for sure is flavor,” she says. “But number two is digestibility. You do feel different when eating bread from freshly milled flour that has been fermented with sourdough because it’s that long, slow fermentation that breaks down the flour and makes those nutrients accessible to us.”

For too long bread has been made to feel more like a cheat day food, rather than a basic part of fundamental dietary needs. It’s time to get back to basics when it comes to nutrition and pay heed to the lessons we’ve learned from our ancestors. And besides, what’s more irresistible than a freshly baked loaf coming straight from the oven with just a simple pat of butter? Nothing. That’s what.

Manresa Bread
276 N Santa Cruz Ave, Los Gatos
408.402.5372
271 State St, Los Altos
650.946.2293

Manresa Bread Café
195 E Campbell, Ave
www.manresabread.com