Eighty-four-year-old Ione Christensen has fed her sourdough bread starter every week for the last 60 years. The starter, however, is much older than the Yukon native. She says that she got it from her grandad who was part of the Klondike gold rush. Now, that starter is being hand-delivered to Belgium by Karl De Smed who will add it to his collection of more than 84 starters from around the world.
The Puratos Sourdough Library in Sankt Vith, Belgium, stores the sourdough starters for future generations in the unlikely event that something should happen to them. A small portion of each starter is examined when the sample first arrives. So far, scientists have been able to identify over 800 strains of yeast and bacteria in the starters collected from around the world.
The sourdough starters are kept in a refrigerator set at 39 degrees Fahrenheit. They are refreshed with their original starter flour every 60 days. Christensen says that her starter has not always had it so good, however, as her grandfather carried it in his gold mining sack with his clothes to keep it from freezing during the Yukon’s bitter winter days.
Yet, many associated with the Puratos Sourdough Library wonder if their efforts will be enough or if there is something special about a baker’s hands. During the summer of 2017, the library asked 16 bakers from around the world to start a new starter putting in it their normal ingredients. In July 2018, those bakers will come together at the library to bake their bread. Scientists have learned that compared to a normal person’s hands, the hands of a baker are covered in far more Lactobacillus bacteria.