Subject: 40. Should I use an established starter or make my own starter?
Well, it all depends on whether you are interested in sourdough baking because you want to make good bread or whether you are also interested in the challenge of creating your own sourdough starter. Even with a predictable starter culture, sourdough baking can be occasionally tricky. For someone who has never baked sourdough bread before and may be experiencing trouble, beginning with a predictable starter eliminates one possible source of trouble.
How do "established" starters get that way? They are propagated for years and years, generations and generations. Also, "established" starters are the end result of selective disposal. For every 100-year-old starter there were countless starters that thrown away because their properties were simply not special enough to merit saving. People did, in fact, give up on all those other starters. Further, it is a relatively well-accepted fact that certain special properties in sourdough cultures don't come into being until a certain amount of time has passed. For example, one can reasonably expect that the symbiotic relationship between microorganisms that have coexisted in a starter for several decades will be much stronger than what is found in a months-old starter culture. This is one reason why these old, established sourdough cultures are such consistent performers and are often quite resistant to change/invasion by other sourdough microorganisms.
So the question becomes whether you want to learn how to surf or whether you want to learn how to make your own surfboard. Most people would agree that it makes a lot more sense to learn how to surf first, rather than doing both at the same time. Billyfish illustrates this well in his posting. Here is a guy who has been struggling for a long time with various starter recipes. He finally gets some satisfaction, finally feels like he can experiment with his technique and concentrate on making the kind of bread he wants *after* acquiring a proven starter from SDI. I think he sums it up perfectly by saying "I now have a starter that is sufficiently predictable to allow experiments to proceed."
*This* is why so many of us recommend starting with an established sourdough culture.
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