Belgium Is Home to the World’s Only Sourdough Library

iStock.com/muratkoc
iStock.com/muratkoc

Though we usually think of libraries as a place that shelters books, some of humanity's most valuable items are a little more ephemeral. Consider the Svalbard global seed vault, which protects the world's crops against disasters, or the Ice Memory project in Antarctica, which is preserving ice cores from endangered glaciers in the face of climate catastrophe. Consider, too, the Puratos World Heritage Sourdough Library in St. Vith, Belgium, which is safeguarding more than 100 bubbling bread starters, as Atlas Obscura reported.

Sourdough may be the world's original leavened loaf. Though today most bakers use commercial yeasts, for thousands of years people relied on starters nourished by wild yeasts and local bacteria, which fermented over a period of days to produce a living, breathing blob. Bakers would spoon out a little at a time to add to new mixtures of flour and water before shaping their loaves; mothers would pass on the blobs to daughters beginning new families; immigrants and travelers would pack the starters to bake bread in new lands. Today, the sourdough starters in kitchens around the world represent a legacy of baking history, microbial diversity, and mouthwatering flavor.

The Belgian bakery supply company Puratos has been collecting sourdough starters since 1989, when they began with a venerable San Francisco sample. Part of the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the Sourdough Library—which opened in 2013—currently houses 108 starters from Italy, China, Hungary, Greece, Canada, and elsewhere, some of which date back hundreds of years. The collection is overseen by a genial man named Karl De Smedt, a "sourdough librarian" who travels the world to find new samples. De Smedt also makes sure the starters are "fed" every two months with flour provided by the original donors. "It's alive, it's like a pet," De Smedt told Atlas Obscura of the painstaking care they require.

De Smedt travels the world to find areas with robust sourdough traditions, like Canada's Yukon, where commercial yeast often hasn't survived in rugged conditions. After he airmails the starters in special kits back to Belgium, scientists analyze them to document their unique combinations of microorganisms. So far, more than 800 strains of yeast and bacteria have been found in the goo. The microorganism samples themselves are stored in a freezer at -112°F to preserve them, while the sourdough starters are kept in glass jars in the library at a more comfortable 39°F.

These days, sourdough is having a bit of a resurgence. Alongside the interest in all things handcrafted and artisanal, some have found that sourdough's long fermentation process produces a more digestible product for those with gluten sensitivity. The library's samples serve as backups for organizations and home cooks who might damage their own supply, as well as a fertile breeding ground (pun intended) for research and commercialization opportunities. Puratos also hosts an online sourdough database, where anyone can enter their recipe.

The library isn't open to the public, but Atlas Obscura notes that De Smedt is happy to show visitors around if they contact him via social media. And for those who can't make the trip to Belgium, an online version of the database provides detailed notes on the colors, textures, and flavors of more than 1400 starters. The library itself can also be explored via a series of videos here. You might just be inspired to rise to the occasion and bake your own loaf.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

A Resin-Preserved KFC Drumstick Can Be Yours for $100

Kentucky for Kentucky
Kentucky for Kentucky

Many devoted KFC fans love the chain's crispy fried chicken for its signature taste and mouthwatering aroma. If you just love the way the chicken looks, now you can keep it on your shelf to admire forever. As Food & Wine reports, Kentucky for Kentucky is selling whole KFC drumsticks encapsulated in resin for $100.

Kentucky for Kentucky, an independent organization that promotes the Bluegrass State, unveiled the jars of "Chick-Infinity" on its website earlier in June. The chicken pieces are authentic Colonel's original recipe drumsticks sourced from a KFC restaurant in Coal Run, Kentucky. While they were at their golden-brown peak, Kentucky artist Coleman Larkin submerged them in 16-ounce Mason jars filled with clear resin "with all the care of a Southern mamaw putting up greasy beans for the winter." 

KFC drumstick in a jar.
Kentucky for Kentucky

The project, part of Larkin's Dixieland Preserves line of Southern-themed resin encapsulations (which also includes the preserved poop of a Kentucky Derby winner), aims to present the iconic Kentucky product in a new way. "Honestly, is there anything better than biting into a warm, crispy KFC drumstick after a day at the lake?" Kentucky for Kentucky writes in a blog post, "we wanted to capture that feeling in a product that didn’t disappear into a pile of bones as soon as it’s opened."

Only 50 of the finger-licking artworks were created, and at $100 a piece, they're worth the price of several KFC family buckets. You can grab one while they're still available from the Kentucky for Kentucky online store.

[h/t Food & Wine]

The World’s Largest Underwater Restaurant Just Opened in Norway—Take a Peek Inside

Ivar Kvaal
Ivar Kvaal

Months before it opened, the world's largest underwater restaurant in Norway was already flooded with reservations. Recently, Business Insider reported that Under has finally started serving its first guests. If you can't book a table at the hottest restaurant below sea level, you can look at the photos taken inside to get an idea of the unique dining experience.

In addition to being the largest underwater restaurant on Earth, Under, from the architecture firm Snøhetta, is also the first of its kind in Europe. It's located in the notoriously treacherous waters off Norway's southern coast.

Underwater restaurant jutting out of the sea.
Ivar Kvaal

After entering the angled building from the shore, guests descend into a 100-person dining room with panoramic views of the ocean and passing marine life. The concrete structure is designed to blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment, eventually acting as an artificial reef that attracts plants and animals. The location boasts such biodiversity that Under is also being used as a research center for marine biologists.

Dining room of underwater restaurant.
Ivar Kvaal

Jellyfish in the ocean.
Ivar Kvaal

Once seated, diners will be treated to a seasonal meal from an international team of chefs led by Nicolai Ellitsgaard. The menu highlights locally sourced produce and sustainably caught wildlife. A full meal lasts roughly three-and-a-half to four hours.

Shellfish dish at Under restaurant.
Stian Broch

Spiny crab.
Stian Broch

Dining room of Under, the underwater restaurant.
Ivar Kvaal

Dining room of Under
Inger Marie Grini/Bo Bedre Norge

Seats at Under are fully booked from now to the end of September. If you're content with getting your name on a waiting list, you can try to reserve a table for earlier in the year through the restaurant's website.

[h/t Business Insider]

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