Ralph Nieboer's Sourdough Story

If you had told me several years ago that I would be doing what I do today, I would have laughed … loudly! The fact is my life has changed enormously over the last few years – and for the better, and today I’d like to share a little of that journey with you.

There is an old Chinese proverb that says: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Well for me, that first step was made during a holiday trip in France. I was just adjusting to being single, as well as to the idea of having to raise my two beautiful daughters on my own, albeit with a lot of help from my Mom and Dad.

While in France, I had my first taste of French made bread, and it was love at first bite! In fact, I loved it so much that I only ate bread for a week. When I returned home from holiday, not only had I lost 4 kilos, but I also knew that I would never be able to eat a bread without sourdough again. That one trip was the beginning of a journey that would change my life in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

My first attempts at making bread were with ready mixes. However, I felt something was missing, so I started looking online for information to learn more. I became hooked - boy did I ever! I practiced and practiced, and little by little got better at creating a decent loaf of bread. And when I joined the Artisan Bread Bakers group in the Netherlands … I knew it was meant to be.

Sourdough Bread, Quest for Sourdough

I remember seeing this beautiful loaf with a lattice on it created by an Australian master baker, Chef Leon Bailey. I was intrigued … so I asked him what type of dough the lattice was made of. He told me it was made from a dead dough, meaning a dough made with no yeast. This inspired me, so I decided to make a lattice of my own by adding vinegar and roasted malt powder to the dead dough. I was truly swamped with positive responses and questions when I posted photos of the result.

I was excited at the reaction, and I wanted more. So I was inspired to try new things and the result was my checkerboard loaf. The online feedback was even more positive, and at a certain point I thought my inbox might explode from questions and comments, all of which I welcomed.

During my Internet travels, I came across the magnificent work of master baker Josep Pascual. I immediately wanted to know more. He is both a fabulous baker and a fantastic person. Indeed, he and his assistant Abel Sierra continue to be a huge inspiration and influence on me. During this time, I noticed that Josep was giving a course in Italy, so I asked him, “When are you going to come and do a course in Netherlands?” His response was “Whenever you invite me.”

This was yet another turning point in my life, as I started planning a master class with Josep Pascual in the Netherlands! Many thoughts and doubts ran through my head. Naturally I was nervous and wondered if I could pull it off. It was my first time doing something like this but fortunately it all went well. From then on, I continued to give courses myself, and continued to learn new techniques and methods.

When I look at my life now, I can’t believe how beautiful it is. I have a constant smile on my face. Now 6 years on, I’m a proud sourdough ambassador for the quest and a real #sourdoughhooligan.

To register your sourdough, visit www.questforsourdough.com/library/map