The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Cheesy smell

Sketti's picture

Cheesy smell

Hi, newbie here :)

I started my first ever starter three days ago. I've been keeping it in my room and its been bubbling away since. I've been feeding it once a day. It looks fine, doesn't seem to have any mold and quite wet. I was wondering about the smell though. Yesterday it was a pleasant sort of bready smell but today it smells more like cheese or spoiled milk. It's kind of a sickening sort of smell. I was wondering if it was normal for it to be unpleasant at this stage. I tossed about half of it today and fed it as the instructions I'm following say to do.

What should I expect from now on?

Soundman's picture

Hi Sketti, and welcome to TFL!

There is so much existing information for you to read here that I will just point you to Debra Wink's Pineapple Juice Solution posts. The following link is to Part II, though you may want to read Part I first:

Debra's information should get you up to speed.


fancypantalons's picture

The short answer:  That's normal.  Keep on keepin' on. :)

The long answer:  What you're smelling is an initial culture of bacteria, most notably lactobacilli.  This is good.  Their job is to provide an acidic environment that the yeast will then thrive in.  Typically, you should see three stages in starter development:  1) an initial burst of activity, 2) a decline in activity, sometimes to the point of no activity and all, and finally 3) an increase in activity again as the yeast take hold.  In the first two stages, the starter will smell pretty foul... "cheesy" is the polite way to put it.  "Baby puke" is probably more accurate. :)  But in stage three, the starter will begin to smell nice and yeasty, with a bit of a sour tang.  Once the starter hits that stage and can double itself in eight hours, it's ready!

Note, the full process, from start to finish, can take anywhere from five days to two weeks, depending on local conditions, and plain ol' luck.  For example, my first starter took around ten days to really hit its stride, while my latest one only took five.  So try be patient.  It'll get there, I promise!

As another aside, if you're not already including a bit of dark/whole rye flour in each feeding, you should do that (I use a 30/60 rye/white blend).  The rye is very good for delivering new yeast spores to the starter, and also makes particularly good food for the yeast (why that is, I'm not sure, but that seems to be the case, for whatever reason).

Sketti's picture

Thanks! That's very reassuring and yeah... "baby puke" is more accurate I was just trying to be delicate :p

It's good to know it's still going on alright!

sephiepoo's picture

Take heart and keep pressing on.  Debra's post is a fantastic resource.  I remember the first week of one of my starters, it smelled so foul I wanted to pitch it, but didn't because I didn't see any mold or nasty colours.  That particular starter got named "Toxic Ooze" for the smell :) But now, many many months later, Toxie is still bubbling away happily and produces a wonderfully sour bread. Keep at it!