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I'm trying to bake the basic country bread from Chad Robertson's book "Tartine Bread".

I've followed the description for making a starter faithfully (p. 45/46). In Step 2, it says that "a dark crust may have formed", that we should "note the aroma and bubbles caused by fermentation" and that "the culture smells strong like stinky cheese".

After 2-3 days, I do notice a darkening of the top and there is a strong smell. However, the top is soft and there are a few spots of gold/brown liquid. There are no bubbles and the culture is very gooey and hard to get off the fingers. (Nothing like the photos on p. 44, assuming that these show the starter after 2-3 days.)

When this happened the first time, I thought that something was wrong. I speculated that the temperature may have been too low. I say this because, following the direction "place in a cool, shaded spot", I left the culture at 18 C (64 F). So the second time, I did exactly the same, but I placed the starter in a different spot that is continuously at 20 C (68 F). The outcome is the same, so I take it that the temperature is not the issue.

Is this what is supposed to happen or has something gone wrong? If so, do you have any suggestions for what I should try differently?

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You're almost certainly fine. 2-3 days is too early to really tell; and often the most off-putting period, both visually and olfactorily. Unless there is visible mold (green, black, or pink), I'd keep going.

Your culture is fighting for it's life right now, waging a battle against all the other natural bacteria that you don't want in your starter. Give it a rousing speech after feeding and carry on. Good luck on your new hobby!

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