Levy's Rye Bread

Double Chili Cheeseburger
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2012/05/01 07:03:16 (permalink)

Levy's Rye Bread

For the first time in several years, I bought a loaf of Levy's Real Jewish Rye bread, a NY brand now distributed over a wide swath by Bimbo Bakeries. The package design is a slightly updated version of that which first appeared at the time the waxed paper wrapping was replaced with cellophane. But the bread tastes nothing like that taste etched into my brain as a youth. You see, in the 50's my grandfather was a baker for Henry S. Levy and Sons at 115 Thames Street in Brooklyn. Bakers would get a free loaf each day and when we went over to his house there was usually a loaf just hours out of the oven. It was either the unsliced 1 pound loaf, a challah, or a retail package of sliced rye. When Levy's switched to cellophane for the sliced bread, he brought us a roll of the left over wax paper they formerly used. For months, I took my sandwich to school wrapped in that paper. A few times, my father took me to their retail store and I once got a brief look into the bakery. Back then, they had a full line of baked goods including foodservice products. The neighborhood was littered with bread delivery trucks.
Levy's advertising agency at that time was Doyle Dane Bernbach, which created the famous "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's real Jewish rye" ad campaign. Sometime in the mid 50's, they got a film of the bakery shown on local New York TV. My grandfather was real excited and we all went to a neighbor's house who already had a TV. He was surprised he was only in the film for about 5 seconds, and they only photographed him from the rear. He used to talk about Nathan Levy and an engineer named Olson or Olsen and "Rubin". A few people put up pages about Levy's:
After all these years, it seems plausible "Rubin" was Samuel C. Rubin, who was the last president of the company. Levy's closed in 1979, during the great shakeout of NY specialty bakers back in the 70's. Arnold of Greenwich, CT bought the rights to the brand. I don't think Arnold produced much more than the sliced bread in seeded and unseeded versions. My mother bought some of the bread right when production shifted to Greenwich. It wasn't exactly the same anymore of course, but was still pretty close. IIRC, the label only had two or three lines of ingredients.
The label now has 7 lines of ingredients (all in capital letters) the way they laid it out:

Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Rye Flour, Sugar, Soybean Oil, Salt, Ground Caraway, Yeast, Preservatives (Calcium Propionate, Sodium Propionate), Grain Vinegar, Datem, Mono- and Diglycerides, Fumaric Acid, Calcium Sulfate, Lactic Acid, Calcium Lactate, Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides, Citric Acid, Glucono Delta Lactone, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Diacetate, Soy Lecithin, Calcium Carbonate, Polysorbate 60, Wheat Gluten, Phosphoric Acid.
Nutrition web sites have a few earlier versions of the ingredients list still floating around, and that bread tasted better as well:

Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Rye Flour, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Soybean Oil, Yeast, Salt, Caraway Seeds, Sour Base (Lactic, Acetic, Fumaric Acids), Mono- and Diglycerides, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Datem, Wheat Gluten, Soy Lecithin, Calcium Carbonate.
Contrast this with the current ingredients list off a package of retail Pechter's Jewish Rye:

Enriched Wheat Flour (Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Rye Flour, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Soybean Oil, Ground Caraway Seeds, Yeast, Mono Diglycerides, Calcium Propionate, Enzymes.

I don't know if this reformulation is what sells in the marketplace today or because they wanted an extended shelf life bread. But I can't stomach this kind of bread or what H&S puts out. These days, I buy Pechter's, Paramount, Sunrise, or Rockland and freeze it. 
EDITED to post the correct current label ingredient listing.
post edited by David_NYC - 2012/05/01 13:24:54

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    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    Re:Levy's Rye Bread 2012/05/01 10:34:33 (permalink)
    <<Sour Base (Lactic, Acetic, Fumaric Acids), Grain Vinegar, Datem, Preservatives (Calcium Propionate, Sodium Propionate), Mono- and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Mono- and Diglycerides, Soy Lecithin, Polysorbate 60, Phosphoric Acid,...>.
    Yep, just like Grandpa used to make...
    Thanks for this writeup on Levy's. I hadn't seen Levy's for years but a few weeks ago my local Asian Market started carrying it. I did buy one loaf, and it tasted just like I figured it would, given the ingredients, which of course are impossible to read, not just the unfriendly typeface but also on the brown background of the bread. I see that on far too many bread products, especially when they really don't want to you read what's in it.
    I agree about Pechters, it's the best commerically available rye bread in NY/NJ. They still maintain thier small corner retail outlet at the Harrison factory, it's like a step back in time. And the prices are about 1/2 the retail prices, plus the rye bread is the non-packaged version, which seems even better.
    It's actually walkable from the Harrison PATH station (maybe a 10 minute walk), so it's fairly easily accessible from Manhattan.
    post edited by ken8038 - 2012/05/01 10:35:47
    Double Chili Cheeseburger
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    Re:Levy's Rye Bread 2012/05/01 13:23:13 (permalink)
    Apologies to all the early readers of this thread. There were multiple versions of the ingredients list on the web as well as the one I typed by hand from the current package label. I accidentally originally posted a slightly earlier version of the ingredients list. Many of Arnold's products now use sugar in place of corn syrup, and when I reread the thread, I knew I pasted the wrong ingredient list. Sorry about that.
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