A gluten-free bagel even a Jewish mother could love

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Jews with gluten intolerance, rejoice! A determined, stay-at-home dad in Oakland has created a gluten-free bagel that you can really sink your teeth into. It’s got a discernible crust and a spongy, springy middle. And — most importantly — it tastes really good, even to a rampant wheat eater such as myself.

“Probably the best gluten-free bagel I’ve ever had,” said my cousin, Jason Forman of San Francisco, a longtime avoider of wheat gluten. “The key is the heft. They have the proper heft. [Other gluten-free bagels] are too light, too soft.”

Odd Bagels, boiled and baked in a communal kitchen in downtown Oakland, are available daily in Berkeley at Saul’s Deli and Berkeley Bowl West and in Oakland at Farley’s East café, and two days a week at Faye’s Video & Espresso in San Francisco.

Brent Woodard

They also are available via the online delivery service Good Eggs, and will be sold at a pop-up market from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26 at 2145 Broadway in Oakland.

The bagels are made with three kinds of rice flour, potato flour and tapioca starch, plus some other ingredients and a touch of molasses (to replicate the distinctive barley malt flavor found in most good bagels). Unlike many gluten-free baked goods, no eggs are used, so Odd Bagels also are vegan.

After tasting them two weeks ago, and enjoying them plain and not toasted (the true test of a good bagel), as well as toasted, I shared my enthusiasm with Saul’s co-owner Peter Levitt. “I was surprised myself,” he replied. “Good bagels are unique for Jews who are gluten intolerant. We’re getting a good response.”

As of last week, Saul’s was stocking about a dozen every weekday, two dozen on weekends (compared with 10-15 dozen per day and 35-40 dozen on Sundays for their regular bagels from Baron Baking).

Odd Bagel was started by Brent Woodard, a 43-year-old who grew up in Santa Cruz and fell in love with bagels when he started at U.C. Berkeley in the late ’80s, when Noah’s was new and making a quality product. Fact is, he had always loved bread, consuming four slices of sourdough a day, he said.

Until April of last year, that is, when found out he was gluten intolerant. An extensive search for good gluten-free bagels left him wanting.

Odd Bagel bagels

“A bagel has a certain look, feel, heft, smell and chew, and none of the gluten-free bagels addressed that. They were just bread with a hole. So I went into the kitchen and started cranking through recipes, mainly for myself,” said Woodard, who isn’t Jewish. “I just wanted to solve it for myself.”

Having left his job in tech support so he could stay at home with his toddler daughter while his wife worked, he had time to keep on trying different flours, ingredients, proportions and combinations.

“I was just cranking through batches and batches of really, really bad bagels,” Woodard said. “They were lumpy. They were gooey.” (That’s when the name Odd Bagel was hatched.)

Finally, after four or five months, he arrived at a smallish (4-5 ounces), hand-rolled bagel that is chewy with a good crust and smell. Another point of pride, he noted: His bagels don’t contain any of the top eight food allergens.

His dough ferments for only a few hours, well short of the 24-hour or even longer processes used by some bagel makers, but they still come out more bagel-y than most chain-store bagels. He makes eight or so varieties (all the standards).

As of last week, he was making about 10-12 dozen a day, but as word gets out on gluten-free blogs and other Bay Area food blogs, Woodard’s life could get a whole lot more hectic. Indeed, he’s already looking to hire a helper.

“I feel I’ve gotten very close to what a bagel is,” he said. “It’s not a bagel, but it’s a bagel.”

Odd Bagel

$1.50 each at Saul’s Deli, $1.79 at Berkeley Bowl West, $7.50-$8 for a four-pack on GoodEggs.com

www.oddbagel.com; OddBagel on Facebook; @OddBagel on Twitter

(510) 282-9593

CHEESE PLEASE: Here’s a new venture that really turns the concept of “boring kosher food” on its head. Peninsula-based Milk & Honey Catering is starting a program that will feature once-a-month delivery of gourmet kosher cheeses from around the world.

Beginning on April 2, which is 12 days before Passover, and continuing the first Wednesday of every month, the “Cheese Share Program” will provide subscribers with three kosher cheeses: one hard, one semisoft and one sandwich cheese — all of them “high-end cheeses,” said Jonathan Mizrahi, 34, the owner of Milk & Honey. “Stuff you can’t buy around here.”

Roquefort will be the semisoft cheese of the month for December.

At the outset, the cheeses will be available for pickup at five locations: the Milk & Honey shop in Foster City, Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco, the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, Oakland Kosher Foods and Congregation Emek Beracha in Palo Alto. Some 65 families have signed up for the minimum six-month com-

mitment, but the goal is to hit 200 by the end of February, Mizrahi said.

For the past year or so, he has been scouring the world for the best kosher cheeses. Selections will come from Italy, France, Spain, Norway, Argentina, Australia and elsewhere. “We’re sourcing from 12 countries so far,” Mizrahi said, “and seeking approval on nine more.”

Sunrise Kosher, Northern California’s kosher certification agency, and the OU have approved the hechshers, or kosher seals, “of all the suppliers we’re working with,” Mizrahi said. And for people who prefer even more stringent standards, chalav Yisrael cheeses (overseen by a rabbi from udder to packaging) will be available every three months.

Monthly menus through December have been drawn up, and they include fenugreek Gouda, manchego, Camembert royal, Roquefort and much, much more — the kinds of cheeses available at high-end cheese counters. All are a far cry from the mundane, domestically produced cheeses, like cheddar and Swiss, that one usually finds in kosher markets.

Mizrahi said the program will be rolled out in Phoenix, Seattle and Los Angeles in June, and that eventually, some of the cheeses might be available in Bay Area stores.

Milk & Honey’s Cheese Share Program

$29-$35 per month for half-pound portions; $55-$64 for pound portions; Passover samplers available

www.milkandhoneycatering.com; MilkandHoneyCateringllc on Facebook; @MilknHoneyCater on Twitter

[email protected]; (650) 212-6455

A SHOT OF KOSHER: A whiskey distillery in Rohnert Park has been granted kosher certification by Sunrise Kosher, formerly known as Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California.

The 3-year-old distillery soon will be known as the Sonoma Valley Distilling Co.; it’s in the process of having its name changed from 1512 Spirits.

“I am told it’s the first whiskey to be certified kosher in California, but I don’t know for sure,” said distiller Adam Boyd Spiegel, a San Francisco native who owns the company after buying out his business partner eight months ago. “Anyway, that wasn’t my point in getting the certification. I see it as a way to display the kind of cleanliness I want to have with my product, and as a way to give back to the community.”

Spiegel, 29, said he didn’t have to change anything in his production process.

Spiegel was bar mitzvahed at Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco, where his late mother, Brenda Boyd Spiegel, was the president and a longtime board member even though she wasn’t Jewish; his late father was Jewish. Getting kosher certification was first suggested to him by one of his mentors, Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, an educator and former longtime Congreg-ation Emanu-El spiritual leader.

Rye whiskey is Sonoma Valley Distilling’s signature spirit, and it also makes wheat whiskey and small-batch bourbon. And, yes, any of them would go nicely in your flask for Purim on March 15.

Sonoma Valley Distilling Co.

www.1512spirits.com (under renovation)

[email protected]; (707) 324-8155

Leftovers …

San Francisco Beer Week is Feb. 7-16, and Wise Sons Deli is co-hosting a beer dinner at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 at its 24th Street location with Shmaltz Brewing Company (founded 18 years ago in San Francisco). Six beers, such as Genesis Dry Hopped Pale Ale and Lenny Bruce IPA, will be paired with a bevy of Wise Sons offerings, some quite intriguing, such as pastrami-dusted donuts with cheddar-beer mustard. The $80 tickets are expected to sell out. For more details, visit www.wisesonsdeli.com … Max’s Diner in San Ramon has closed after more than 20 years. It operated as a franchise, and when the lease expired and the rent went up (to $28,000 a month, the owner told Patch.com), the owner decided to bow out … Saul’s Deli owner Peter Levitt shot down an East Bay blog item that Saul’s is thinking about opening a second location in a new Lafayette complex. “We were invited, but we’re not going to do it,” Levitt, 55, told me. “Not as long as I’m at the helm; maybe someone 20 years younger could do it.” Levitt nearly opened Saul’s No. 2 at the JCC of San Francisco in 2008, but decided against it, and now has no plans to expand … Over the next few months, the Authentic Bagel Company in Oakland is going to be expanding into the space next door. Upon completion, the plan is to be open six days a week (instead of four) and to expand the menu to include house-made whitefish salad, matzah ball and other soups and, yes, a hamburger on a bagel (a big hit when offered recently as a one-day special) … The East Bay region of the Jewish Community Relations Council is sponsoring an Israeli wine and chocolate pairing from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26 at the Veterans Memorial Building in Lafayette. For $15 advance, $18 at the door, you’ll get tastes of 12 top kosher wines from Israel, plus fine chocolates, plus a presentation by Alex Fox, former wine educator at Niebaum-Coppola winery. For information, visit www.tinyurl.com/jcrc-wine or call (510) 318-6417.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.