Belgium Is Home to the World’s Only Sourdough Library

iStock.com/muratkoc
iStock.com/muratkoc

Though we usually think of libraries as a place that shelters books, some of humanity's most valuable items are a little more ephemeral. Consider the Svalbard global seed vault, which protects the world's crops against disasters, or the Ice Memory project in Antarctica, which is preserving ice cores from endangered glaciers in the face of climate catastrophe. Consider, too, the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library in St. Vith, Belgium, which is safeguarding more than 100 bubbling bread starters, as Atlas Obscura reported.

Sourdough may be the world's original leavened loaf. Though today most bakers use commercial yeasts, for thousands of years people relied on starters nourished by wild yeasts and local bacteria, which fermented over a period of days to produce a living, breathing blob. Bakers would spoon out a little at a time to add to new mixtures of flour and water before shaping their loaves; mothers would pass on the blobs to daughters beginning new families; immigrants and travelers would pack the starters to bake bread in new lands. Today, the sourdough starters in kitchens around the world represent a legacy of baking history, microbial diversity, and mouthwatering flavor.

The Belgian bakery supply company Puratos has been collecting sourdough starters since 1989, when they began with a venerable San Francisco sample. Part of the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the Sourdough Library—which opened in 2013—currently houses 108 starters from Italy, China, Hungary, Greece, Canada, and elsewhere, some of which date back hundreds of years. The collection is overseen by a genial man named Karl De Smedt, a "sourdough librarian" who travels the world to find new samples. De Smedt also makes sure the starters are "fed" every two months with flour provided by the original donors. "It's alive, it's like a pet," De Smedt told Atlas Obscura of the painstaking care they require.

De Smedt travels the world to find areas with robust sourdough traditions, like Canada's Yukon, where commercial yeast often hasn't survived in rugged conditions. After he airmails the starters in special kits back to Belgium, scientists analyze them to document their unique combinations of microorganisms. So far, more than 800 strains of yeast and bacteria have been found in the goo. The microorganism samples themselves are stored in a freezer at -112°F to preserve them, while the sourdough starters are kept in glass jars in the library at a more comfortable 39°F.

These days, sourdough is having a bit of a resurgence. Alongside the interest in all things handcrafted and artisanal, some have found that sourdough's long fermentation process produces a more digestible product for those with gluten sensitivity. The library's samples serve as backups for organizations and home cooks who might damage their own supply, as well as a fertile breeding ground (pun intended) for research and commercialization opportunities. Puratos also hosts an online sourdough database, where anyone can enter their recipe.

The library isn't open to the public, but Atlas Obscura notes that De Smedt is happy to show visitors around if they contact him via social media. And for those who can't make the trip to Belgium, an online version of the database provides detailed notes on the colors, textures, and flavors of more than 1400 starters. The library itself can also be explored via a series of videos here. You might just be inspired to rise to the occasion and bake your own loaf.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

A New Jersey Pizzeria Is Using Its Delivery Boxes to Help Find Missing Pets

John Howard/iStock via Getty Images
John Howard/iStock via Getty Images

You might overlook dozens of “Lost Dog” posters nailed to telephone posts on a weekly basis, but would you miss one pasted to the top of your pizza box? One New Jersey pizzeria owner thinks not.

John Sanfratello, owner of Angelo’s Pizza in Matawan, New Jersey, is asking people from all over the state to send him their lost pet flyers so that he can tape them to his delivery boxes, CBS News reports. The idea occurred to him after his neighbor’s cat went missing: Though that cat has since been found, Sanfratello started to wonder how he could help reunite other lost pets with their owners. Since the pizza was getting delivered around the city anyway, he thought, why not add a message?

One patron of the pizzeria told CBS News she thinks the practice has “triggered a community effort by everyone” to pay a little extra attention to their fellow residents. And Sanfratello’s sister has also adopted the idea for her own pizza shops in Florida.

Angelo’s Pizza is currently spreading the word about two other missing animals: a cat and a Seeing Eye dog in training named Ondrea, who recently escaped her yard while chasing another animal. The German shepherd puppy has been lost for almost four weeks, and her owners said they’ve done everything they could think of—searching the woods, putting up flyers around town, and posting on Facebook—to no avail.

It’s a new spin on the old practice of printing photos of missing children on milk cartons, Sanfratello said. Though that may have fallen out of fashion in the late 1980s, Sanfratello has high hopes for this new partnership between pizza and pet owners.

[h/t CBS News]

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