Last Updated on May 11, 2023 by Lori Walker
There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of baking with your homemade sourdough starter. However, sometimes you might notice a strange smell from your starter resembling cheese.
As someone who has experienced this firsthand, I can attest that it can be concerning. We’ll explore why your sourdough starter smells like cheese and what you can do about it.
Why Does My Sourdough Starter Smell Like Cheese?
If you’ve noticed that your sourdough starter  smells like cheese, don’t worry – it’s expected. The smell is likely due to the Leuconostoc mesenteroides bacteria, which is naturally present in the air and can find its way into your sourdough starter.
While this bacteria is responsible for the cheese-like smell, it’s also essential for the health of your sourdough starter.
It helps to break down the starches in the flour, making it more digestible and creating a unique flavor profile in your sourdough bread.
So, while the smell may be off-putting, it’s a sign that your sourdough starter is active and thriving.
Is It Safe To Use Sourdough Starter That Smells Like Cheese?
Yes, it is safe to use a sourdough starter that smells like cheese. While the smell may be strong and off-putting, it’s not harmful.
The Leuconostoc mesenteroides bacteria responsible for the cheese-like smell is a natural part of the fermentation process in the sourdough starter.
“I like cheese and pickles. Nice cheese and pickle on real old-fashioned bread. Ploughman’s lunch.”– Gary Oldman, American Actor
The bacteria help to break down the starches in the flour, making it more digestible and creating a unique flavor profile in your sourdough bread.
As long as your sourdough starter is active, bubbly, and has no signs of mold or discoloration, it is safe to use in your baking. Find out how long will you proof sourdough starter at room temperature here.
How Can I Get Rid Of The Cheese Smell?
- Feed your starter more frequently: This will encourage the growth of different bacteria that can help balance out the Leuconostoc mesenteroides.
- Incorporate different flours into your starter: Rye or whole wheat flour  can encourage the growth of other bacteria that can help reduce the cheese-like smell.
- Add a small amount of honey to your starter: Honey contains natural antimicrobial properties that can help balance the bacteria in your starter.
- Change the hydration level of your starter: Experiment with different hydration levels to see if this affects the smell of your starter.
- Give it time: It may take several feedings for the cheese-like smell to dissipate, so be patient and keep feeding your starter regularly.
Will The Cheese Smell Affect The Taste Of My Sourdough Bread?
While the cheese-like smell in your sourdough starter may be strong, it typically doesn’t significantly impact the taste of your sourdough bread. Some bakers even prefer the slightly tangy taste of a starter with a cheese-like smell.
If your sourdough starter is active and healthy, it will produce great sourdough bread with a delicious and unique flavor profile. So, don’t let the smell discourage you from continuing to use and experiment with your sourdough starter.
Can I Still Make Good Sourdough Bread With A Starter That Smells Like Cheese?
Absolutely! Your sourdough starter is active and healthy, so it will still produce great sourdough bread. Some bakers even prefer the slightly tangy taste of a starter with a cheese-like smell.
Don’t let the smell discourage you from continuing to use and experiment with your sourdough starter. Remember to keep feeding it regularly and to adjust the recipe if necessary to account for any changes in the flavor profile of your starter.
With some experimentation, you may even discover a new and unique flavor combination for your sourdough bread.
What do bad sourdough starters smell like?
If your sourdough starter has spoiled, it will likely have a strong and unpleasant smell different from the usual sourdough smell.
It may have a rotten or putrid odor, similar to spoiled milk or rotting food. You may also notice mold growth on the surface of the starter or discoloration.
Why does my sourdough starter smell moldy?
Your sourdough starter may smell moldy if mold has started to grow in it due to too much moisture, infrequent feedings, or contamination with mold spores.
If your sourdough starter smells like cheese, don’t be alarmed. While the smell may be strong and off-putting, it’s a common occurrence and a sign that your sourdough starter is active and thriving.
The Leuconostoc mesenteroides bacteria, a natural part of the fermentation process in the sourdough starter, cause the cheese-like smell.
While you can try to reduce the cheese-like smell by feeding your starter more frequently, incorporating different flours, or adding honey, it’s important to remember that the smell doesn’t typically impact the taste of your sourdough bread.
So, continue to experiment with your sourdough starter, and don’t let the cheese-like smell discourage you from baking delicious and unique sourdough bread.