Recently, I told you about my first foray into the wild world of sourdough bread (pun intended). Since then, I've been diligently feeding my starter, waiting for the day I can actually pull bread from the oven, slather it with good butter and perhaps a sprinkling of fleur de sel, and enjoy the fruits of my labor. To be honest, though, it hasn't been much in the way of labor.
I'm sure I would be further along in the process if I were a bit more diligent about feedings. Since what you're doing is essentially feeding a growing colony of yeast, the speed of the process is at least somewhat proportional to the the amount of feeding. More food supports more, and healthier, yeast, and your starter will grow exponentially toward eventual bread-dom. As I said last time, this growth is why it's important to discard (or simply remove for another purpose) some starter every time.
Me? I've only been feeding mine once a day (I may have missed a few scattered feedings, even). Still, my starter seems to be progressing nicely. It's not ready for bread, but it's definitely alive. How did I know? It stank.
After about 48 hours, I began to notice an odd smell coming from the kitchen. It smelled a bit like feet, slightly like washed-rind cheese, and just a smidge like vomit. My wife, whom I hadn't clued into my experiment, nearly threw it away. My starter was saved by its stench, as my (admittedly weak-stomached) wife couldn't get near it without gagging. This is normal, I assure you.
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In addition to the odor, I also saw evidence of activity. Instead of a thick and impenetrable paste, my starter had taken on a slightly frothy appearance, with evident bubbling, the result of CO2 production by my industrious little microorganisms. Like the high-water line after a flood, there was also a scummy line of flour paste lining the bowl about an inch and a half above the surface of the starter. Overnight, the bread had risen under the influence of just-fed yeast, and fallen again as they ran out of gas.
I ignored the funky odor, expecting it as the natural byproduct of colonization. Not everything that takes hold is something you want. The good guys, I've been assured, win out. You know you're really on your way when the funk subsides to a gentle sourness, and a clean yeasty aroma settles in. Looking forward to that moment and the bread that follows, I scraped the sides of the bowl, sent half of the slightly fluffy looking mix down the drain, and fed the bitch.