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Homemade Buttermilk

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Homemade buttermilk is tasty, easy to make, and sooo good for you. It’s not just a refreshing beverage, but also a healthful cultured milk product with all the essential goodness from lacto-fermentation that we humans need. I’m talking about those probiotics that our traditional foods were so rich in, and that the modern diet is all but bereft of.

Homemade buttermilk is also a go-to cooking and baking staple that can be substituted in almost any recipe that calls for sour cream or yogurt — and, lest I forget to mention, used in buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk pancakes, buttermilk pancakes, and anything else that gets its loft from the chemical reaction of acid and base, as when buttermilk meets baking soda.

If you’ve ever made yogurt, you’ll be delighted by how easy it is to make buttermilk. No heating of the milk. No sterilization of equipment. No precise temperature control during incubation. Just add a little buttermilk to milk, and wait.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “yogurt miracle”: the phenomenon whereby yogurt (real yogurt) turns out to have a lower carbohydrate count than would be expected by the amount of sugar that’s naturally present in the milk. The idea is that the friendly bacteria, in the process of turning the milk into yogurt, eats lots of the milk sugar. The result is that yogurt has less naturally occuring sugar than a label would indicate, because the nutritional information is calculated before the “miracle” takes place.

At any rate, the same applies to buttermilk. As the buttermilk culture consumes the sugars in the milk and multiplies, transforming your half-gallon of ordinary milk into a creamy, flavorful substance, less sugar is, logically, in the result. Simply put, it got et.

If you’re thinking, “All well and good, but I don’t like buttermilk,” I urge you to consider trying it out anyway. Nowadays most of us have been exposed only to the super-salty commercial stuff at the supermarket that’s loaded with thickeners, preservatives and other extra ingredients and made with lowfat milk. This is not like that. It’s smooooth, and just lightly tart.

We’ve had our buttermilk culture going since late 2004 or perhaps early 2005. (I write this in 2010.) Usually we make new buttermilk every week, but sometimes we go through a batch in a few days; sometimes it takes a few weeks. It’s never gone bad, so I can’t say how long it will last in the refrigerator.

It’s been one of the main foods that our little boy has grown up on; in fact, he hardly had noncultured milk until he started taking half-pint cartons to school with him. It’s been an important source of friendly bacteria, protein and healthy, natural fat for his growing brain. Sometimes he drinks it straight, and sometimes with an ounce of so of fruit juice (which is already watered down). Just a little juice, and a good shake in a sippy cup, makes an easy, low-sugar, instant smoothie.

Buttermilk is also the basis for other homemade cultured milk products you can make, like quark and sour cream. I’ll be putting up recipes for them, too, eventually — or very soon, depending on requests.

Homemade buttermilk
Extra notes

Do not be tempted to use more buttermilk as a starter, hoping for better speed or tastier results. We’ve learned that more starter just makes for harsh, sour flavor.

It wlll take longer in cold weather than hot for the milk to clabber into buttermilk.

Be sure to save some of buttermilk for the next batch, so you can keep the culture going!

We started our buttermilk with powdered culture that we bought from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company (www.cheesemaking.com).

Homemade buttermilk
The recipe

Ingredients

To make one quart buttermilk

  • Powdered buttermilk culture, homemade buttermilk or commercial buttermilk
  • 1 quart whole milk (raw, if you can get it)

To make two quarts buttermilk

  • Powdered buttermilk culture, homemade buttermilk or commercial buttermilk
  • 2 quarts (1/2 gallon) whole milk (raw, if you can get it)

Equipment that bears mentioning

  • Quart or 1/2 gallon glass jar or bottle, or quart or 1/2 gallon BPA-free plastic bottle
  • Gallon pitcher or other deep vessel that the 1/2 gallon bottle fits into.

In a nutshell

Add a little bit of buttermilk to a lot of whole milk. Wait.

In detail

Combine buttermilk powder with quart or two quarts milk according to instructions on buttermilk powder packet.

Or, combine homemade or commercial buttermilk with milk in the jar or bottle in these proportions:

For one quart milk, use 2 tablespoons buttermilk.

For two quarts milk, use 1/4 cup buttermilk.

Fill the gallon pitcher or deep vessel (this might need to be your kitchen sink) with hot tap water.

Let stand on the counter for 6-12 hours, until clabbered. You can leave the bottle in the water, or you can remove it and set it directly on the counter after about a half hour. Whichever is more convenient for you. (The important part is raising the temperature of the milk to room temp quickly. It makes the buttermilk taste better.)

To determine whether the milk has clabbered, shake the jar lightly. Over the next several seconds, you should see stripes that have formed running down the glass. That’s the sign that, it’s clabbered. It doesn’t have to be thick. It’ll thicken later.

Refrigerate.

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