Rustic Bakery

There are great pairings in history. Baseball and hot dogs. Red wine and rare ribeye. Abbott and Costello.

And, for us, tart cherry and milk chocolate.

We bring you that very duo via the Rustic Bakery Artisan Crisps this month. The perfect snap of their biscotti-like snack also has small, wonderful slivers of almonds. Back in 2005, when the company founded and launched with its signature flatbreads, it was among the first in the artisan snack industry. Now, they service elite airlines, capable of producing three million packs of a single flavor per order.

The story of Rustic Bakery begins with Carol LeValley and Josh Harris, a couple who loved baking in their own home in Novato, California, frequently entertaining and serving friends a from-scratch recipe for a simple sourdough flatbread. It was crafted with only organic ingredients. Each long, flat toasted stick had bubbles from the bake, with a light, irresistible crunch and perfect moments of salt.

One afternoon, they were chatting other friends Peggy Smith and Sue Conley — who owned the Cowgirl Creamery located in San Francisco’s famous Ferry Building.

The cheese of Cowgirl needed the counterpoint. Conley and Smith placed an initial order of 50 cases, before LeValley and Harris even had a commercial kitchen.

Sometimes, stress is the mother of invention. Within a couple of months, they transitioned from rolling out dough in their own kitchen to signing a lease on a small wine bar space in Larkspur, California, with a commercial kitchen in the back. A Fancy Food show in 2006 would be the catalyst for brand explosion.

“That flatbread is still our No.1 seller,” says VP of Sales and Marketing, Scott Frank, “and now everything in the company is produced under two roofs. Thousands of cafes sell the brand to-date, and we just signed up Dubai and South Korea. It’s certainly a global brand.”The flatbread flavors extend off that signature Olive Oil & Sel Gris to include a Rosemary & Olive Oil, a Sweet Onion & Crème Fraiche and an Everything Spice — which mimics the intensity of the beloved bagel mixture.

Any of these would go wonderfully with a glass of wine, but we wanted to take it a bit further in the realm of pairings for Penfolds and include the Artisan Crisps. Somewhere in between a cookie and a biscotti, these crisps feature a great crunch, but offer a little chew in the middle, thanks to a double toasting that yields maximum golden coloring. “Our Tart Cherry Cacao Nib & Almond is a classic,” says Frank and the cherries are sourced from the Pacific Northwest. There is also a little cranberry in there, sourced from Michigan.”

The sour notes of the cherry mingle with the chocolate and the gorgeous crunch of almond, but they really develop when paired with cheese — just as those first flatbreads did way back in 2005. Frank recommends brie, taleggio, a clothbound intense cheddar or a gruyere. And, of, course the dark, dreamy Shiraz/Cabernet notes of a beautiful Bin 389 or Bin 600.

As for upcoming news, he says they plan to continue their booming seasonal business — bringing flavors of cookies and snacks, all built around holidays like Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, with decorated boxes to match.