Author Topic: Multiple starters vs. single starter  (Read 2909 times)

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Offline jkandell

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Multiple starters vs. single starter
« on: March 06, 2008, 09:48:29 AM »
The solution is much simpler:
1) Maintain only one culture.  There is not much difference, if any, between the flavor of different sourdough cultures in the crust.  (How one ferments the dough matters much more than the inoculate.)  Better to keep one fresh than to have four going that are "stale".
2) Store as firm starters in the fridge.  Firm starters ferment slower.
3) Dry a bit on wax paper in case you wait too long and the fridge stored starter is all moldy.

I understand that maintaining underused cultures can be a burden and I do have cultures that I don't use very frequently. But every few weeks, I pull each culture out of the fridge, mix in some flour and water, put in the MR-138 at 80F until fully active, pour into a clean container, add some more flour and water, put back in the MR-138 until showing signs of activation, and back it goes into the fridge. Maybe a minute of hands-on time (except for washing the old container - dried starter can be a pain to remove!).


Offline Bill/SFNM

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Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2008, 10:29:01 AM »
The solution is much simpler:
1) Maintain only one culture.  There is not much difference, if any, between the flavor of different sourdough cultures in the crust. 

I could not disagree more. Each of my cultures has a quite distinctive taste and fermentation curve.

Offline November

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Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2008, 10:33:57 AM »
I saw that disagreement coming from a mile away.  To say that different sourdough cultures will produce the same flavor is like saying chicken and turkey taste the same.

Offline jkandell

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Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2008, 11:03:54 AM »
I have a Camerons stovetop smoker that I bought some time ago to play around with small briskets and ribs (before I moved away from most meat products in my diet), and I recalled after reading about Chris Bianco’s smoked mozzarella cheese that the smoker can be used to smoke cheeses. I couldn’t quickly find the instruction booklet but if you go to the Camerons website, at http://www.cameronscookware.com/Smokers.aspx, you will find the instructions for smoking cheeses (e.g., in the pdf instruction manual document linked at the top of the page).

I love my Cameron's, it makes better salmon than a grill!  I use it for smoking cheese, and also for smoking other ingredients for pizza.  I recommend smoking red onions for a bianco "rosa" (pistachios, red onions, parmesan, rosemary). Smoking mushrooms and red peppers also tastes great on pizza.  Make sure you use very little chips--you want this to be lightly smoked so it doesn't dominate.  I only go a couple minutes so the ingredients aren't cooked just a little soft.  They actually cook on the pizza itself.

Offline jkandell

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Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2008, 11:11:29 AM »
I saw that disagreement coming from a mile away.  To say that different sourdough cultures will produce the same flavor is like saying chicken and turkey taste the same.

I didn't say they tasted exactly the same, I said the difference in flavor in negligible compared to the flavor of the flour and the way one ferments the culture.  I'm saying this as an experienced sourdough bread baker who has tried various starters and created many of my own--the difference is at most subtle.  Any given starter will taste one way or another depending on how one grows it--in my experience it's a myth that it's the starter itself which determines its flavor rather than the growing conditions (which favor certain types of bacteria and other organisms and chemicals).  I bake weekly desem bread, and the products is sometimes sour, sometimes sweet like it has honey in it, sometimes nutty, etc. 

I'm not trying to start a flame war here (it's off topic anyway), just trying to provide a different side and to simplify for a user frustrated with maintaining a sourdough culture just for pizza.

Also, keep in mind, my reply was aimed at a user who was hesitating to maintain four sourdough starters.  Even if you were correct, I maintain that keeping one single one in good shape is better than four in bad shape!

ps. maybe we should argue this off-list?

Offline jkandell

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Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2008, 11:23:50 AM »
I was just trying to make a point to all the people in our forum that are trying to figure out what the heck this guy is doing.  I am only saying this to continue that idea, not to actually make you move the thread, but chris told me that he lived in Rome, not Naples.  It could be that his dough methodology is Neapolitan, but that is where the similarity ends.

It could just be me, but the essence of Neapolitan style for me is a simplistic crust without oil or sugar or milk etc, emphasizing the flavor of the wheat itself, with carefully chosen high quality but minimal toppings. (Really, like Italian food as a whole, compared to Italian-American food.) Usually lower in cheese than NY style too, not smothered.  So it's more about simplicity rather than the exact flour or ingredients.  And, of course, very high heat oven. 

I consider my own pizzas "Neapolitan-style" but I post them in the NY section so as to not insult you guys here. :-)

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2008, 11:24:33 AM »
ps. maybe we should argue this off-list?

Why off-list? Public, lively, but friendly, disagreements are a great thing - everyone learns something. What I will do is split this off to a more appropriate board.

Bill/SFNM

Offline November

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Re: Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2008, 11:58:17 AM »
The phrase "there is not much difference, if any" is loaded.  The connotation is that there's little or no reason to have different starter cultures.  Despite the subtle differences between chicken and turkey, people obviously see that there is a great enough difference to bother with having both chicken and turkey in the store and on the dinner table.  The notion that feeding two different organisms the same and maintaining them the same will cause them to taste enough alike to warrant doing away with multiple starters is crazy.  If that were true you could just feed and take care of half the turkeys the same way as one might chickens and call them the new "chickens."

This also comes down to a matter of preference and taste sensitivity.  I know people who can't tell the difference between lamb and beef, which in my opinion are so different I wonder if these people had their taste receptors surgically removed.  Just because you only detect a negligible difference, doesn't mean others do.  Empirical data shows there is a significant difference between various sourdough organisms when it comes to acid production, even when maintained exactly the same way.  See the document in the following link:

http://www.unclesalmon.com/lib/documents/sourdough_acid.pdf

By the way, who was hesitating to maintain four sourdough starters?

- red.november
« Last Edit: March 06, 2008, 12:00:03 PM by November »

Offline jkandell

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Re: Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2008, 08:49:25 AM »
The phrase "there is not much difference, if any" is loaded.  The connotation is that there's little or no reason to have different starter cultures.  Despite the subtle differences between chicken and turkey, people obviously see that there is a great enough difference to bother with having both chicken and turkey in the store and on the dinner table.  The notion that feeding two different organisms the same and maintaining them the same will cause them to taste enough alike to warrant doing away with multiple starters is crazy.  If that were true you could just feed and take care of half the turkeys the same way as one might chickens and call them the new "chickens."

I would not call the difference between turkey and chicken "subtle".  But you're begging the question by claiming that starters are as different as those two.  It comes down to this: If different starters produce differences of flavor as significant as turkey and chicken, you're right; if the differences in flavor are not nearly as drastic as those two but very subtle then I'm right.  Nothing you or I said in our posts settled this, it comes down to the facts.  I would urge folks to try out different starters and see who's right.

Things get a little more complicated because the very same starter will taste one way or another ("like chicken or turkey" if you will) depending on how wet it is, how long its fermented, and the ambient temperature.  I don't doubt starters can taste different, but is it the starter itself or the conditions of its growth?

I guess what I'm trying to do is give "permission" for folks to not be obsessed with mutliple starters like some of you are, but to keep one well maintained and use it for everything.  I mean some of you gents have special temperature coolers etc.  Great, but you don't need to go that far to make a sourdough pizza crust!

Quote
By the way, who was hesitating to maintain four sourdough starters?

Not sure because this topic got split off from its original Pizza Bianco.  It was whomever Bill was replying to in the post I quoted at the top of this thread, looked like around August 2007.

Offline November

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Re: Multiple starters vs. single starter
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2008, 09:29:19 AM »
I would not call the difference between turkey and chicken "subtle".

But some would, and that's the point.  Some people can taste differences more than others.

If different starters produce differences of flavor as significant as turkey and chicken, you're right; [...] I don't doubt starters can taste different, but is it the starter itself or the conditions of its growth?

Apparently you didn't read the document I provided, or didn't understand it.  Under the exact same aerobic growth conditions, Lactobacillus casei can produce as much as 11.9 µmol/mL diacetyl, while many of the other lactobacilli don't produce any at all.  That's like the difference between canola oil and butter (diacetyl being the main flavor molecule in butter).  If you can't taste a significant difference between those two, something's wrong.  Still others produce a much greater or lesser amount of lactic or acetic acids, again under the exact same growth conditions.  The numbers aren't subjective.  If they're vastly different, which they are in some cases, they're vastly different whether you or someone else genetically like you can tell.  The probability someone will be able to detect more than a negligible difference, with deltas like those reported, is actually pretty high.

What you are failing to realize is one of the fundamental reasons organisms are grouped into different species in the first place.  Despite their similar appearance or outward function in the world, some species are very different because they process their environment in a different way.  Environment in this case can refer to atmosphere, food sources, temperature, etc.  Some lactobacilli lack the genetically defined ability to use certain food sources and in turn create certain byproducts.  That's essentially what's going on with some of the lactobacilli reported on in the document.  If an organism just can't produce a specific chemical, it won't matter how you feed it or maintain it.  You can feed cellulose to humans all day long but we're not going to turn it into energy because we lack the ability to produce the enzyme to do so.

Nothing you or I said in our posts settled this, it comes down to the facts.

It may not be settled in your mind, but I presented facts rather than an opinion based on a genetically biased, personally subjective, flavor analysis.

- red.november

EDIT: So that you can better appreciate my concern, I'm not against subjective flavor analysis.  It's what people sometimes have to rely on when describing what a particular pizza tastes like on this forum.  It's the statements that teeter on the edge of equivocal and absolute that I'm concerned about.  If you were saying that you don't find it worth keeping four starters because all starters taste similar to you, then the issue of starter flavor becomes equivocal and we're done here.  However, "There is not much difference, if any, between the flavor of different sourdough cultures in the crust." and "in my experience it's a myth that it's the starter itself which determines its flavor rather than the growing conditions" seem to impart little estimation.  "In my experience" could refer to factual findings, but I doubt that's what it really means.

"I guess what I'm trying to do is give "permission" for folks to not be obsessed with mutliple starters like some of you are, but to keep one well maintained and use it for everything. [...] you don't need to go that far to make a sourdough pizza crust!"

I'm not one of those folks obsessed with starters.  In fact, I don't use a starter at all because I can make a pizza crust I like without starters.  So if I took your approach I could be telling people "you don't need to go that far to make a pizza crust!"  Which, quite frankly, should be obvious to anyone without me having to say it.  Maintaining multiple starters is analogous to having multiple dough formulas.  The flavor differences can be huge for some people, even when the ingredient quantity differences look small on paper.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2008, 11:00:18 AM by November »