Natural Yeast

Bread making traditions in Italy commonly start with a sourdough starter called “pasta madre” or “lievito madre”. This is a firm sourdough starter maintained at around 50% hydration and continuously propagated with daily refreshments. The wet style starter is almost unheard of amongst professionals but has shown some adoption in modern times, mostly by home bakers.

Maintenance of the madre and refreshments vary according to each bakers’ practices but is typically fed at a ratio of 1:1 (madre:flour) daily or twice daily.

About Lievito Naturale / Lievito Madre:

A symbiosis of wild yeast and heterofermentative lactobacillus bacteria. The dominant species, usually L.sanfranciscensis is capable of producing lactic and acetic acid.

Keeping it warm (28C) promotes the ideal balance of acids; 4 parts lactic to 1 part acetic for sweet levened pastries.

At cool room temperature a balance of 3:1 (lactic:acetic) is ideal for bread.


At 15-18C to keep healthy and viable feeding every 12-24 hours is best. Or once a week if refrigerated. There are two common techniques for the conservation during this period.

1. Bound. The starter is wrapped in cloth and tied with rope.

2. In water. The starter is submerged completely in water.

In water (partly aerobic, with oxygen) the madre is less acidic than when wrapped (anaerobic, without oxygen).


Refreshments are performed in the warmth (~28C). Usually only one refreshment is needed for making bread. For highly enriched dough like panettone, at least three refreshments are made. Optimum pH; 4.5 (madre in water) and 4.1 (madre tied).

More info:

A selection of articles from Dolcesalato:Text in Italian:

  1. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part I)
  2. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part II)
  3. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part III)
  4. Natural yeast: from theory to practice (Part IV)

Conservation method per pastry chef / baker

Iginio Massari bound / legato
Achille Zoia bound / legato
Carlo Pozza bound / legato
Giovanni Pina bound / legato
Leonardo Di Carlo bound / legato
Massimo Vitali bound / legato
Francesco Favorito bound / legato
Piergiorgio Giorilli in water / in acqua
Rolando Morandin in water / in acqua
Renato Bosco in water / in acqua
Francesco Elmi in water / in acqua
Sara Papa in water / in acqua
Alfonso Pepe in water / in acqua

5 thoughts on “Natural Yeast

  1. What is the gram measurements for your starter using flour, raisins and strawberries? You mentioned feeding every 4 hours for what period of time? How long does the starter take to mature.?
    I would love to give it a try this year but need a little more specifics, like a step by step process. I must give you props for an amazing job on the panettone. The best I have seen so far on the Internet.

    Thanks Ann

    • Hi Ann,
      If you have a regular sourdough already, it may be easier to convert it. This is a 50% hydration sourdough fed always 1:1 (eg. 100g leaven, 100g flour, 50g water). You’ll need to feed it daily (every 12-24 hours) keeping it at room temperature, wrapped in cloth and tied tightly. It will take at least two weeks to become mature.
      Once mature, feed 3 times every 4 hours at 28C before using for cakes like panettone. It must triple in size each time. If not, take an extra 10% leaven on the next feed.

      I’m glad you like my Panettone, Thank you.

      If you have any more questions, feel free to contact me over at

      • Thank you so much for responding. I made a lot different kinds of sourdough starters last year, which led to a lot of waste with the excess sourdough. I have some that I have dried out, and some I have kept frozen, however I would like to try it at 50 % hydration and follow your method and see what happens. I did stumble on you at the fresh loaf where I am a member researching panettone. Thanks again.


  2. Hi Michael, I reread your master class on lievito it is excellent. I maintain a rye starter but mine is 1to1, Dark rye and bottled water. It is good but I like your method better for a white flour product. Thanks for taking the time to explain your process so minutely. I too love process. I struggled to get bread that tasted like European breads and am still learning. This post gives me a new look on leaven. Thanks for sharing the process. Pam

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