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Old 08-15-2007, 07:54 AM
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Default How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

CanukJim said in another thread (http://www.fornobravo.com/forum/11/p...ml#post13719): (Proofing - raising questions????) "Call it a sourdough, a levain, a barm, wild yeast or what have you, they all refer to propogating a culture of the resident airbourne yeast in a particular area. The are about a zillion ways of going about beginning one of these, but there's really no mystery to it. Just create a receptive environment of water and flour, and the yeast and other good bugs will take up residence. It takes a while to do this, but once you've got it, you've got it. The flavour of wild yeast bread beats commercial yeast hollow."

So there are a zillion ways... but only two have ever worked for me! In the far-distant past I bought one, but for the past couple of decades I've started them with grapes. No matter what the books say about starting a culture with rye, or seeds, or anything else... the only thing that works for me is to drop a couple of unwashed grapes into a moist slurry of flour and water. All else seems to turn into a rank-smelling goo.

What has worked the best for you? Can one really tell the difference between wild yeast cultures started in various ways?
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Old 08-15-2007, 08:32 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

Brian,

Have a look at the Photo Gallery and the Proofing, Raising thread for an answer to this. It describes the method and origin of the one that has worked best for me. I've done this in many ways over time, including using fruit, but I really don't think after a month or so of regular feedings it makes the slightest bit of difference whether you used grapes or some other fruit or just flour (it's worth pointing out, as Dmun did, that flour itself contains wild yeast). The key is to use the best, freshest ingredients you can find. Some methods approach voodoo; all of which seems unnecessary.

My knowledge of microbiology is pretty thin on the ground, but the dominant organisms in your particular area will predominate eventually, no matter how you started. As well, dominant strains vary, region by region, around the world, and I really can't say which would be active where you are. It's a pretty safe bet that it would be different from here. I live in a rural area of southern Ontario, at a fair elevation above the lake in Zone 5, where there are many farms and orchards.

The secret to full flavor in a sourdough is time and regular feedings, because it's not just the wild yeast that imparts that recognizable taste. There are enzymes and lactobacilli present that take a while to develop fully. In retardation of dough made with a mature culture, the yeast is slowed but the enzymes and lactobacilli keeping working to break out maximum flavor from the grain, including the natural sugars present. This is the major reason that hearth breads made in a WFO should show caramelized grain sugars on the crust.

Having said all that, though, I'm still, and may always be, in the learning stages with SD breads.

Jim
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Old 08-15-2007, 09:02 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

OK. I don't believe there was a "page 3" to that thread when I started this one! My apologies for being redundant.

Last edited by BrianShaw; 08-15-2007 at 09:04 AM.
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Old 08-15-2007, 09:58 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

Brian,

Not at all. I was probably posting at the same time you were.

Jim
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Old 08-15-2007, 10:25 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

Quote:
Originally Posted by CanuckJim View Post
<snip>.... the dominant organisms in your particular area will predominate eventually, no matter how you started. <snip>
So, to make sure that I am understanding this correctly, if I were to purchase a SD starter [from no matter where], eventually, over time, the end result would be the locally dominate strain, not the one that I had purchased.

J W
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Old 08-15-2007, 10:55 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

I believe this is true. At least, that is what I have always heard. The starter I bought - way back when - was supposed to be a true San Francisco sourdough starter. Over time it became a Los Angeles starter... and in true LA fashion it developed emphysema, became schitzophrenic from the overcrowding, developed ulcers from the stress of freeway traffic, failed in all attempts to make it big in the movie industry and eventually died a pauper and an unknown.
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Old 08-15-2007, 10:56 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

JW,

Correct. The dominant strain will invade and take over. It's a matter of numbers, and the fact that the dominant strain will be exposed to the flour and water every time you feed it. The strain you purchase will not be able to sustain itself without infusions of the same strain over time. This, at least, is what my research has told me.

Jim
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Old 09-01-2007, 05:02 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

I have managed to make batches of healthy starter on 2 separate ocasions. I use organic flour and mineral water and thats it. I work a month on and a month off on a ship so each time, I had to let my wife feed and take care of it. The first time I came home to a moldy mess. The second time I have stored it in the fridge (and told her not to touch it). I hope when I get home it will be OK.
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Old 09-01-2007, 09:27 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

I have left mine in the fridge unfed for months on end, and then fed it twice a day for a week before use with good results. The second week was better and more active, but no mold and still alive...

Drake
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Old 09-01-2007, 09:45 AM
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Default Re: How do you start: sourdough, levain, a barm, wild yeast

I'm no microbiologist, but I do have some background in this with my science classes in college and medical school. I find the idea 'the dominant strain will take over' interesting. Within the petri dish that is your container of starter, whatever is there in the most quantity is the dominant strain, not the yeasties floating around in your kitchen. How you treat your starter as far as frequency of feedings, type of food, temperature of storage, and any inhibitors such as chlorine are all more likely to select for certain strains than the 'contaminants' from your environment. The idea that the contaminants in your area are more aggressive than what started it suggests that there's a pecking order of yeast, but if that's that case then somewhere there has to be a strain that is more aggressive than any other (maybe in NY).

Realistically, I think you create an 'environment' within your starter container that does the selection, and this environment is almost certainly a bit different than the one that you began with. It's probably influenced a little by your kitchen, but more so by other variables. Hence, SF sourdough starter will act differently in NY because that handler is likely behaving differently than the person who gave it to him. If the same handler of the starter moves to SF with a fridge at the same temp as his NY fridge and uses the same feeding schedule, then it's going to be similar to the starter he used in NY. If you are as consistent with handling your started as Nancy Silverstein or Jim, then the starter will behave in a predictable fashion. If you feed your starter every few weeks and keep it in the fridge except for a few hours after each feeding (my routine), then you will have different flavors and rising times with each bake.

BTW, I started my starter with organic flour and a little bit of Rye kicker mixed with distilled water. I mix it thick (I remember Jim's quote about pancake batter) when I feed it, and it works quite well.

Marc
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