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IN THE TINY MUNICIPALITY OF St. Vith, Belgium, there’s a most unusual library. Unusual, that is, because the objects on its shelves need to be fed every few months. Burbling away in refrigerators are 105 sourdough starters from around the world. It’s a modern way to store what used to be a familiar feature of home kitchens: starters, the fermented mixtures of flour and water added to dough to provide rise and flavor.
The Puratos Sourdough Library is not in an area famous for sourdough. Especially among Americans, San Francisco may be best known for the bread. But according to Karl De Smedt, the sourdough librarian, sourdough belongs to the entire world. Until 160 years ago, “everyone who was making bread was using sourdough.”
De - Smedt - Candidate - World - Librarian
De Smedt is both an obvious and unlikely candidate for the world’s first sourdough librarian. A confectioner and baker by training, he is passionate about sourdough and has worked at the Belgium-based bakery supply company Puratos since the ’90s. He’s also essentially allergic to flour. But this is not uncommon for bakers—De Smedt developed his asthma-like symptoms in 2002 due to his long exposure to flour dust.
Each sourdough is numbered, and the collection currently stands at 105.
Condition - De - Smedt - Training - Puratos
Due to the condition, De Smedt shifted to corporate training at Puratos. At the time, global interest in artisanal bread, especially sourdough, was growing. Puratos had long been collecting bread starters for research, starting with a San Francisco sourdough in 1989. Puratos opened a Center for Bread Flavor in St. Vith in 2008. As the Center collected bread starters, De Smedt proposed displaying them in one place. Given essentially carte blanche by Puratos to promote the center’s projects and sourdough in particular, De Smedt oversaw the opening of the Sourdough library at the center in 2013.
The library’s website likens the project to...
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