By JoAnn Guidry • Photos By Cindy Mikell
It probably doesn’t, but Yalaha should mean, “died and gone to bakery heaven.” Because from the moment you enter Yalaha Country Bakery in Lake County, that’s exactly how you feel.
Already impressed by the beautiful Bavarian-styled building seeming inexplicably not out of place at all along a rural Florida road, your senses go into overload when you walk through the double wooden doors. The wonderful aroma of fresh-baked bread greets you, makes you smile, and brings back childhood memories of coming home on winter days to the same. Next comes a whispered “oh, my” as you visually take in the glass display cases filled with decadent pastries. Behind the counter are shelves and shelves of all sorts and shapes of breads. Your mouth quickly anticipates the edible pleasures to come.
Your low-carb resolve just melted away. This is going to be pure, sinful indulgence.
But there is an immediate problem. How to choose? Even if your waistline or your wallet could afford one of each, it would still be impossible. On any given day, there are hundreds of baked goods to choose from and the bakery actually offers over 1,000 different items. In the peak winter months, some 600 pounds of bread are baked every day. The provided bread list has 70 varieties, literally “A” (American pumpernickel) to “Y” (Yalaha Country Special). Then there are the pastries — cookies, Danish, tarts, cannoli, éclairs, streusel, tortes, pies, stollen. Chocolate éclairs are one of the best sellers and some 600 a day are made and sold!
Overwhelmed by the decadent decisions before us, we decide to take advantage of the deli offerings first. We had been out all day riding in the Ocala National Forest and thought it best to offer our bodies some sustenance before indulgence, although the fare offered in the deli restaurant in the bakery is far from your basic bread and water. There is everything from bratwurst with sauerkraut, Bavarian veal loaf, quiche Lorraine or Europa to Brazilian tuna salad on Focaccia bread. Or you can special order your own sandwiches of German meats and breads, and there is always a variety of soups and salads available.
The deli opened in 2004 and has immediately become very popular — and very profitable. On any given day, upwards of 100 sandwiches are made-to-order. And keep in mind that the deli closes at 3pm!
We all opted for the fresh cranberry chicken salad on a bed of fresh greens, savoring each and every delectable bite. We were also comforted watching the steady stream of customers having the same difficulty we did with making selections, although a few regulars march right up to the counter, order their usual, and hurry to a table to enjoy their special treat. While we enjoyed our meal, hosts Edith Cramer, Marianna Williams, and Marion Loughmiller caught us up on the history of Yalaha Country Bakery.
Located in tiny Yalaha (yes, there is a Yalaha, Florida) off County Road 48 just south of Leesburg, the bakery was established in 1995 by Gunter Herold. Hailing from the Bavarian town of Schwabisch Hall, Herold had a dream to bring a little bit of his homeland to central Florida. He’s succeeded. People come from all over Florida and beyond (including one patron who lands his helicopter in the nearby field) to enjoy the bakery’s offerings, usually sitting outside in the patio area surrounded by the building’s unique murals and beautiful gardens.
Weather permitting, there is live entertainment every Saturday from 10am to noon and hundreds of people usually attend these casual music fests. The success of the bakery has also led to an auxiliary store in The Villages, located in the United Southern Bank building. Everything is baked at the main store and then transported fresh daily to The Villages.
Of course, all of this success is based on those fresh-baked breads and delicious pastries. Baking goes on practically around the clock, with the first shift coming on at midnight to bake the breads. Next come the Danish chefs at 7:30 and then the pastry chefs an hour later. Everything is baked in European stone-slab ovens, using the best of ingredients with no preservatives or chemical additives.
The handcrafted breads include sourdough ryes like wheat-free Vollkornbrot and Roggenbrot, as well as Farmer’s, Swiss and German. Into multigrains? Then you might want to try Mighty Munch or Super Seven. Then there are lighter wheat and specialty breads like French Country Sourdough, Baguette, Kalamata Olive, and Bauernbrot.
One of the bakery’s many specialties is authentic German Stollen, a cake containing pure butter and rare spices from the Saxony region. It comes in two varieties — regular or with marzipan. It has a long shelf life and is a popular holiday gift. Think the German version of American fruitcake, but much, much better.
Finished with our lunch, we are once again faced with the dilemma of deciding on our decadent indulgences. Our hosts lend a helping hand, serving each of us a different piece of torte — Wild Forest Berry, Carrot Cake, and Raspberry/Passionfruit. There are plenty of sighs and smiles as we eat our own and sample each other’s.
Although we are very satisfied after our delicious meal and luscious desserts, we cannot bear to leave empty-handed. After much deliberation on our choices — bordering on angst — we leave with boxes of treats to enjoy later and a promise to return.
After all, there is so much more of bakery heaven to savor!
Yalaha Country Bakery
8210 Country Road 48
Yalaha, Fla. 34797
By JoAnn Guidry • Photos By Cindy Mikell