Take a Virtual Tour of the World’s Only Sourdough Library

There’s 15-year-old Pre­cious from the Nether­lands…

And Bub­ble from Aus­tralia, age 4…

Yeasty Beasty Methuse­lah, from Twin Falls, Ida­ho, is esti­mat­ed to be around 50…

Every sour­dough starter is spe­cial to the ones who made or main­tain it, but of the 1000s reg­is­tered online with Quest for Sour­dough, only 125 have earned a per­ma­nent place in the Puratos Sour­dough Library in Saint-Vith, Bel­gium. It’s the world’s only library ded­i­cat­ed to Sour­dough, and you can take a vir­tu­al tour here.

Housed in iden­ti­cal jars in a muse­um-qual­i­ty refrig­er­at­ed cab­i­nets, these her­itage starters have been care­ful­ly select­ed by librar­i­an Karl De Smedt, above, who trav­els the world vis­it­ing bak­eries, tast­ing bread, and learn­ing the sto­ries behind each sam­ple that enters the col­lec­tion.

As De Smedt recalls in an inter­view with the Sour­dough Pod­cast, the idea for the muse­um began tak­ing shape when a Lebanese bak­er reached out to Puratos, a hun­dred-year-old com­pa­ny that sup­plies com­mer­cial bak­ers and pas­try mak­ers with essen­tials of the trade. The man’s sons returned from a bak­ing expo in Paris and informed their dad that when they took over, they planned to retire his time-hon­ored prac­tice of bak­ing with fer­ment­ed chick­peas in favor of instant yeast. Wor­ried that his prized recipe would be lost to his­to­ry, he appealed to Puratos to help pre­serve his pro­to­cols.

While fer­ment­ed chick­peas do not count as sourdough—a com­bi­na­tion of flour, water, and the result­ing microor­gan­isms this mar­riage gives rise to over time—the com­pa­ny had recent­ly col­lect­ed and ana­lyzed 43 ven­er­a­ble starters. The bulk came from Italy, includ­ing one from Alta­mu­ra, the “city of bread, pro­duc­er of what Horace called in 37 B.C. ‘the best bread to be had, so good that the wise trav­el­er takes a sup­ply of it for his onward jour­ney.’”

Thus was a non-cir­cu­lat­ing library born.

Each spec­i­men is ana­lyzed by food micro­bi­ol­o­gist Mar­co Gob­bet­ti from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bolzano and Bari.

A col­lab­o­ra­tion with North Car­oli­na State Uni­ver­si­ty biol­o­gists Rob Dunn and Anne Mad­den revealed that sour­dough bak­ers’ hands share dis­tinct microbes with their starters.

More than 1100 strains of microor­gan­isms have been record­ed so far.

Every two months, the starters are tak­en out of the fridge and fed, i.e. reac­ti­vat­ed, with a com­bi­na­tion of water and some of their flour of ori­gin, year­ly quan­ti­ties of which are con­tributed by their bak­ers. With­out this reg­u­lar care, the starters will die off.

(The pan­dem­ic has De Smedt work­ing from home, but he inti­mat­ed to The New York Times that he intend­ed to make it back to feed his babies, or “moth­ers” as they are known in sour­dough cir­cles.)

#72 from Mex­i­co feeds on eggs, lime and beer

#100 from Japan is made of cooked sake rice.

#106 is a vet­er­an of the Gold Rush.

Their con­sis­ten­cy is doc­u­ment­ed along a line that ranges from hard to flu­id, with Sil­ly Put­ty in the mid­dle.

Each year, De Smedt expands the col­lec­tion with starters from a dif­fer­ent area of the world. The lat­est addi­tions come from Turkey, and are doc­u­ment­ed in the mouth­wa­ter­ing trav­el­ogue above.

For now, of course, he’s ground­ed in Bel­gium, and using his Insta­gram account to pro­vide encour­age­ment to oth­er sour­dough prac­ti­tion­ers, answer­ing rook­ie ques­tions and show­ing off some of the loaves pro­duced by his own per­son­al starters, Bar­bara and Aman­da.

Reg­is­ter your starter on Quest for Sour­dough here.

If you haven’t yet tak­en the sour­dough plunge, you can par­tic­i­pate in North Car­oli­na State University’s Wild Sour­dough Project by fol­low­ing their instruc­tions on mak­ing a starter from scratch and then sub­mit­ting your data here.

And bide your time until you’re cleared to vis­it the Puratos Sour­dough Library in per­son by tak­ing an inter­ac­tive vir­tu­al tour or watch­ing a com­plete playlist of De Smedt’s col­lect­ing trips here.

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dat­ing Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

An Archive of Hand­writ­ten Tra­di­tion­al Mex­i­can Cook­books Is Now Online

400 Ways to Make a Sand­wich: A 1909 Cook­book Full of Cre­ative Recipes

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her cur­rent starter, Miss Sour­dough, was brought to life with an unholy splash of apple cider. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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