For a long time, the only type of fermentation I was aware of was the type that produced alcohol. I believe the reason I even knew that was because if you hang out with enough people drinking beers, eventually it comes up. When I started to brew my own beer, I began to better understand the process of fermentation; how yeast is a living microorganism and feeding it sugar allows for it to change molecules into different forms, like alcohol in beer. Eventually I learned that fermentation was not exclusive to making booze, and that humans have been fermenting foods and drinks for most of our history, and that many foods and drinks I consumed were fermented. In fact the primary drive behind creating a fermentation club was to see how many different and unique things we could ferment if we got enough people interested and involved.
So far, one of the more popular items that club members have shown interest in is sourdough. I've always been a fan of sourdough, but truth be told I didn't know it was a fermented food until recently. The way sourdough is made is by adding a sourdough "starter" to your flour when you're making your loaf, instead of adding dry yeast. The starter is an active culture of yeast that has been kept alive by the baker and can be used continuously as long as it is fed and kept under the right conditions. Some people keep starters alive for years and pass them down from generation to generation.
Our fermentation club is lucky enough to have a professional baker as a member, who was nice enough to donate sourdough starter for the club to use. Our starter is being kept with me at our club's headquarters, and I am feeding it and monitoring its growth. To keep the yeast in the starter alive, you have to regularly feed it sugar; how much and how often you feed it depends on the conditions in which you store it. If you're regularly baking and using the starter, you can keep it at room temperature and feed it everyday to keep the yeast very active. If you're using it less frequently, you can refrigerate it and feed it about once a week. I've been keeping our starter in a cold space in the house, at about 50 degrees, and feeding it twice a week. To feed it, I combine 1 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of water, and about half a tablespoon of honey. I have not yet baked with it, but with an upcoming Ferment Del Norte meeting this week, I plan to give it a try by making a couple loaves. Pictured below is our starter; once I have baked with it, I will do another blog post to show how the loaves turned out.
Here are links to a few of the sites I've been looking at about sourdough starters.
This site gives a lot of history and a multitude of methods for creating your own sourdough starter:
The photo at the top of the page was taken by Ferment Del Norte club member Kelley Atherton. She created her own starter from scratch and baked that loaf of bread with it. She was good enough to share the loaf with the club, and it was just as delicious as it looks!