Buttermilk is perhaps one of the most versatile of the fermented dairy foods – along with being one of the easiest to make. The sour flavor so well-known in buttermilk is due to its lactic acid content (a bacteria) – most notably, streptococcus lactis or lactobacillus bulgaricus.
Its history as an ancient food is quite lengthy, dating back to Hindu civilization as long ago as 5,000 years. Once regarded as precious, it was used as a currency. Ancient traditions of food preparations rarely wasted food, and buttermilk was created when butter was churned from leftover bits of butter and liquid – hence the name buttermilk.
Up until the 1920s, people made buttermilk at home until the modern age of industrialization caused the packaging and selling of milk and milk products. As butter started being mass-produced by machines, buttermilk was then discarded.
It was consumed raw in ancient history (and still is), but the probably the most well-known historical use of buttermilk has been in baking. Although this diminishes the value of the friendly bacteria, it also makes your baked goods much healthier than most any store-bought variety and probably most home-made items you’ve eaten from your own home or the homes of others.
Here is the recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell:
- 1 quart whole milk (raw is a plus!), not ultra-pasteurized
- about 1/4 cup buttermilk culture – I got mine from the local farm where we buy our milk and meat. One of the best sources I have heard of is Cultures For Health. Sally Fallon suggests the following resource in her book – New England Cheesemaking (413)-628-3808; the fil mjolk culture from Sweden, which is smaller, is available from G.E.M. Cultures (707) 964-2922
Place milk in a glass container, add the buttermilk culture, stir well and cover. Keep at room temperature (but not higher than 80 degrees) until the milk thickens and curdles slightly. Chill well, Reserve 1/4 to 1/2 cup in a separate jar in the refrigerator for the next culture.
When I made my buttermilk, I left it out on the counter for just over 24 hours (I was making kefir at the same time, so I checked both of them at once). There was some natural separation that occurred, but I’ve heard from various sources that this is not a problem. You can gently shake your buttermilk after you have cultured it on the counter before placing it in the refrigerator. If separation occurs after you have chilled it, just give it another few gentle shakes and use as normal.
What can I use buttermilk for?
There are many uses for buttermilk, and since it is a fermented dairy food, you can use it for many of the same thing you would plain whey in baking and other foods. Here are just some of the things you can do with your buttermilk:
- cream cheese – (see recipe below)
- soak grains for cereals
- soak flour for pancakes
- soak flour for baked goods like breads
- use in smoothies in place of yogurt or milk, or in combination
- some people enjoy drinking it straight! I have never tried this (yet!)
Most of my using buttermilk has been in soaked flour or cereals. I am making my first batch of cream cheese today, although our grains are of limited consumption, my son loves good cream cheese spread thick on toast with a bit of butter underneath.
(from a combination of Nourishing Traditions and various other recipes)
- Put plain buttermilk or yogurt in a dish towel or cheese cloth and tie to suspend it from a kitchen cupboard over a metal dish, glass, or ceramic bowl overnight. The whey from the yogurt or buttermilk will drip through the cheese cloth and into the bowl. You can secure your cheese cloth with rubber bands on your cupboard handle. In the picture, you can see I suspended mine from a hook on my pot rack. This is because I don’t have pulls on my cupboards.
- When the whey has sufficiently separated from the cheese in the cloth, remove the cheese by scraping it out of the cloth with a flexible spatula (mine is a silicone type used in baking), and add salt to taste. You can also add herbs to your cheese like dill, chevril, caraway, dried basil, thyme, or parsley. Roasted garlic is another good addition to your cheese.
- Place your whey and cheese in the refrigerator. The whey can be stored for several months, and the cream cheese can be used for up to about a month or two. Although unlikely, watch for mold or discoloration as a cue to discard if you have not consumed your cheese after more than two months.
The flavor of home-made cream cheese is vastly different than the store-bought variety, and and possesses a stronger and sometimes more pungent flavor, depending on how long the milk you have made the cream cheese from has been allowed to sour.
Its consistency is much creamier and is incredibly spreadable on your favorite sourdough bread or crackers. The lactic-acid activity occurring in fermented foods like home-made cream cheese produce beneficial bacteria and creates a good environment in aiding the digestive tract.
When I took the cream cheese out of the cheesecloth and tasted it the following morning, it was delicious!
What have been your experiences with making fermented dairy? Buttermilk or cream cheese?
This post is part of Sustainable Eats Lacto-Fermentation Blog Carnival. Please visit this site and read the other great recipes linked there.