I tasted my first slice of sourdough bread on a family vacation in Italy in 1999. We were a family of eleven (6 adults, five kids) in Rome and went to a trattoria (my uncle, the foodie and best cook in our family, had picked the spot because left to the rest of us we would have been happy with just a slice of pizza) for lunch where our waiter set down a basket of thickly sliced bread. It was a far cry from the soft, sliced white bread in flimsy plastic bags available at every corner store back in our small town. This bread had character with a hard exterior and a soft, chewy interior and unusually large crumbs. Large enough for all my cousins and I to take turns looking through it, much to the dismay of my sophisticated uncle.
My brother was the first to give it a go. He copied the local diners and tipped some olive oil followed by a few drops of balsamic vinegar (gleaming bottles were on every table) on to his plate and then mopped up the leopard printed concoction with a slice of bread and chewed on it slowly till his eyes widened and he let out a gross moan. We quickly followed and inhaled over three bread baskets in five minutes flat with little thought for our actual lunch which I'm sure was great but its the bread that I still remember. It was that good!
It's been a few (ok, many. it has been many, many, many. sob!) years since I tasted my first slice of real bread and now I am obsessed. Sourdough bread is essentially made with a fermented dough using starter that has only natural or wild yeast in it. Baking sourdough bread is a labour of love like every thing worthwhile in life should be. This is a great link to give you some information along with a great recipe.
I have been known to kill many a starter but am happy to report that starter no. 10 is alive and bubbling. Fingers crossed! So I was at work (or the kitchen, as I call it) having a slow week and decided to bake a couple of loaves of bread. There was challah and bagels and a boule of sourdough, pictured here. I made it using regular all purpose flour so it didn't have enough gluten need to rise but the taste was fantastic. I didn't have any balsamic on hand so paired it with salted butter and plum jam. I am happy to report that it did not disappoint.