Raw Dairy Real Food

Home-made Buttermilk and Cream Cheese

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.

Cream cheese:

(from a combination of Nourishing Traditions and various other recipes)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

More fermented dairy recipes: yogurt and kefir
This post is part of GNOWFLGINS Twister Tuesdays carnival.

33 replies on “Home-made Buttermilk and Cream Cheese”

I’m so happy your buttermilk and cream cheese turned out well!

I made buttermilk using raw milk. I let a cup sit out until it clabbered (several days), then I took a 1/3 cup of that and added a fresh cup of raw milk. I continued this process until it clabbered overnight. Then I added enough milk to make 1 quart, clabbered it overnight, and stored it in the refrigerator. It is so good! When my jar begins to get low, I just add more milk, leave it out, then refrigerate it once it thickens. This method comes from the Food Renegade Website.

I’ve never made cream cheese from buttermilk. I usually make it from a mixture of plain yogurt and raw cream. YUM!!! I LOVE real food!!!

Can’t wait for the kombucha post. 🙂

Hi Jen – I am really excited about the cream cheese and buttermilk too! I wish I could find other ways to eat the cream cheese besides on bread though. I really don’t do well with grains and I’m particularly sensitive to wheat. I went for two weeks without eating wheat to give myself a break. Then yesterday I had some at breakfast with my cream cheese – it was so delicious! But then later in the day we went riding and over to my friend’s mother’s house to leave her children while we went riding and she had made cookies, so I had one. Unfortunately, I think just those two things disturbed my sleep last night as I hadn’t had a sleep problem since I stopped eating wheat two weeks ago, and when I eat it, it causes sleep problems. 🙁 Even though the bread I have at home is sprouted, organic grains, it still bothers me to eat it if I eat too much.

I hate it that I can’t even eat it periodically or it causes problems, but that’s just the way it is.

I have never tried making cream cheese from yogurt and cream, that sounds so good! We really never have cream around here because we can’t get any raw cream from the farm where we get our milk. We could skim it off the top of our milk, but I don’t want to to do that because we wouldn’t get the nutritional benefit from drinking our milk if we did.

I have already taken pictures of the brewing process for the kombucha, but I forgot to take a picture of putting the scoby in the jar, which I think is pretty important. So I’m hoping to get a shot of that when I take it out (hopefully it will look the same??). But I’m excited to taste the kombucha when it’s done!

I’ll have to wait for more raw milk (next week!) to make more buttermilk. I have a little bit left and hopefully it will keep until then. I will have to try the Food Renegade method, it sounds really easy.

Thanks Jen! 🙂

We love our cream cheese spread on apple slices and then dipped in sunflower seeds. Really yummy. I enjoyed the history in your article. Blessings –

My grandfather used to drink buttermilk instead of regular milk. He said that’s what they grew up drinking. Not sure why they would have drank buttermilk rather than regular milk? Maybe they sold it, they did run a store.

Connie – great idea! I have trouble with grains, and I had thought about dipping it in vegetables too, but I love apples, so I’ll be doing that today!

Paula – yes, I’ve heard of people drinking it and I don’t know that I would do this, but I would use it for so many other things – it truly is a versatile food that can be used for a vast amount of purposes.

Wardeh – thanks for your comment! I hope you get to use your starter. Yes, it’s really delicious! 🙂


One of my FAVORITE ways to eat the “cream cheese” is to substitute it anywhere you would use sour cream. Sometimes I will dilute it with a little water or milk so that it has a runnier consistency, but it’s a great way for me to sneak healthy stuff into my visiting family’s bodies at Christmastime. I made a veggie dip with the cream cheese as the base–a blend of the right herbs, and it’s like ranch; put in some minced dried onions and some different herbs, and you have french onion dip. I also serve it with fruit–I mix just a bit of maple syrup into it to make it just a tad sweet. I also use it to make “cream” sauces–think along the lines of beef stroganoff to be served alongside soaked brown rice. YUM!!!

Hi Dani – I am always looking for other ways to use my home-made foods. Thanks for the idea about using cream cheese like sour cream. I actually thought about that the other day, and it looks like my suspicions were correct!I love beef stroganoff and other dishes like that. We have a potato, ground beef, tomato sauce, bacon dish we make and we added some yogurt to it a few times to make it creamy, and some sour cream to it another time and it was really delicious. All great ideas! 🙂

I just made buttermilk and posted it on my blog yesterday, and today I saw your post via twitter. I was really excited to make buttermilk–so easy for such an amazing transformation. And whey is endlessly useful. I’ve made cheese from yogurt, though not buttermilk. That’s next. Good stuff!

Hi Raine,

Thanks so much for posting! You could make cheese log with the cream cheese and roll it in nuts to avoid the grain issue, or make cheese cake (savory or sweet)w/o a crust and cut in squares to serve as finger food. There are gluten free crusts you can make but maybe you are completely grain free?

Hi! Yes, I have eaten gluten-free grains/breads/crusts, etc. and I occasionally eat wheat as I am not celiac, just grain intolerant 80 percent of the time. The nuts are a great idea for the cheese log, and I do use them for granola in yogurt and fruit instead of grains. I love cheesecake! I will have to put that on my list to make sometime soon. The biggest problem with making big quantities of anything with raw milk is that we usually don’t have enough to go around after we’ve received our weekly allotment. Usually it gets drank by my son and husband, and it is $10 a gallon!

Hi! I’ve recently stumbled upont your blog and I have a question. I’m fairly new to whole foods & have just this year really started turning my nutrition (and health) around. We’ve been drinking raw milk for several months now and just today I seperated my milk & cream so I can make raw, pastured butter. I was planning to save my buttermilk from this process to make creme friache.
Could I use this buttermilk as a starter to make more? I haven’t done a ton of research and I was under the impression that I could only get buttermilk from making butter. I can’t wait to try cream cheese now, too after reading your post!!

Jessica – the only way I know to make buttermilk is to get a starter from someone – like a person on a farm – that’s where I got mine. You can also obtain some from Cultures for Health –

There is probably another way, I just don’t know what that method might be. When you make it from a starter, you can use existing buttermilk to make more buttermilk. I just pour some of my current buttermilk into a new jar and add raw milk to it, then leave it on the counter for a couple of days, or top of the refrigerator. I don’t often measure when I pour the existing buttermilk into my jar, I often use a quart container, fill it up about a 1/6 of the way full and then add milk to the top. Hopefully that helps! Enjoy.

I enjoyed reading this blog entry.

I just made whey and cream cheese from the recipe in Nourishing Traditions. I left out a glass of raw milk for 2 days. As it separated, I poured it through a dishcloth to separate the whey from the cheese.

My “problem” is that the cheese doesn’t taste sour at all. It tastes like milky butter. What did I do wrong? Did I not leave the milk out long enough?


Kim – I am not sure why your cheese turned out that way. I made cream cheese once and it turned out the same way. I have never been able to figure out the answer, but I suspect it may have something to do with how much butter fat is in the amount of milk or buttermilk you are using.

The first few times I made cream cheese, it came out great. Then about the fourth time it was more like milky butter too. I think I didn’t have enough butter fat, and that all depends on how you pour it into your container, as in, how much butterfat is in what you are pouring (has some of it been used already for something else, thereby diminishing the amount).

Let me know what happens if you try again. Perhaps try making your cream cheese from a batch of milk first before you do any other separating out of milk or using milk, to see if having more total butterfat makes a difference.

What fun! I’ve been keeping a batch of creme fraise going all summer by saving the last Tbsp of each pint, adding a pint of local, 40% cream, and leaving it at room temp for 24 hours. I use it like sour cream or whipped cream. So easy! I’m excited because I’m getting s dairy goat Sunday and need lots of ways to use my excess milk. I ordered some cheese making supplies, a sour cream starter, and books on making milk soap. Great value added products to use and market or use as gifts!

Cathy – it is fun! I am making another batch of buttermilk today to make creme fraiche. My buttermilk starter sort of went south…well, I guess what really happened is that it turned into cheese in the container I put it in. I had set it in a large container on top of my fridge, and then had nowhere to put it in the fridge after leaving it out all night. Because it got left out for some days, it turned into cheese instead of buttermilk. My friend Tara told me that it probably will taste like cheese and that I should drain it and store the whey, put it in a blender and add some salt and spices. I need to do this and see what happens!

Your goats sound like so much fun, I can’t wait until we can get a piece of land and have animals. I also want to get some cheesemaking supplies – where did you get yours? I was thinking the New England Cheesemaker.

In case you are like me living without controlled climate aka no AC, you will have bugs & such get into the whey hanging it like you show here..I put my yogurt in a colander lined with cloth, t-shirt works too..and a bowl underneath,in the fridge and leave sometimes two days to get a dry, thick cream cheese…I have that same it as a wedding gift 32 years ago!hah…

I an getting old!!! It is so precious to read all you “youngins” talk about where buttermilk comes from. Buttermilk is the liquid that’s left after you make butter. Cultured buttermilk is the kind described in this article. It’s exciting to see folks want to know all about real food…what we ate when I was little and hopefully what folks are going back to today. My daddy (in his late 70’s and still working fulltime) still has buttermilk and cornbread to eat (it’s a Southern thing)…my boys eat it too. Folks used to drink buttermilk regularly before the days of widespread refridgeration.

It just didn’t have the bacteria count to sour it or make it tart tasting. It’s the lactic acid (from the bacteria eating the lactose) that makes it sour tasting. Plain clabbered milk isn’t as sour as, say…kefir, which uses kefir grains (bacteria and yeasts). Every batch is different.

BettyJean – I am equally excited to see people like yourself reading posts like this and sharing your enthusiasm for traditional foods that taste delicious and heal people’s bodies.

I don’t know how old you are, but I may not be as young as you think I am. I’m 41 years old…so no spring chicken, but I’ve still got a lot of life and years left ahead. I’m so grateful to have been given the chance to regain my health through the consumption of traditional foods – 5 years ago, I thought I was possibly dying of something as I had began to feel incredibly sick, weak, and run down. Now, I have more energy than I used to most of my adult life. It’s a great feeling to be able to return to health after so many years of terrible symptoms and feeling sick, just because I changed my diet (which I will admit is no small thing), but still a fairly simple solution, nonetheless. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

Hi Judith – thanks for visiting and thanks for your tips on making cream cheese. It’s always great to hear other people’s successes, and failures (so we know what NOT to do) in preparing these healing foods. 🙂

Hi I stumbled across your site & I like what I see. I was wondering if you can help me with somehting. I made homemeade cream cheese from a quality store bought yogurt but instead of leaving it out I placed it in the fridge as suggested by someone. But I am wondering if it has even cultured? It doesn’t have a strong flavor. Do you think it would be ok to just let my “cream cheese” sit out on the counter over night for better flavor or did I miss that chance?
thanks for any advice.

Hi Amy – anything that is pasteurized won’t have the same culturing effect as something produced from raw dairy. I also wouldn’t leave any pasteurized dairy out on the counter longer than about a half an hour or so. Once pasteurized dairy has gone out, it’s rotten. Raw milk products won’t spoil, they’ll only sour and then you can use them for culturing, and you can leave them out overnight because the natural probiotics and enzymes protect them from rotting. The reason your yogurt turned cream cheese wasn’t sour is because the lactic acid in it isn’t strong enough – pasteurization destroys most enzymes, fats, and proteins. Lactic acid is strong in raw dairy and thus you will get the sour taste and smell with what you are making – particularly the longer you leave it out. I hope that helps!

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I followed the recipe from the Nourishing Traditions book (same as this one). I made my buttermilk from a culture. After I had buttermilk, I left it in the fridge for a few days and then put it on the counter to separate. Only, it never separated. It turned thick like yogurt, and I waited longer for it to separate. After about a week I noticed mold growing on the milk. I’ve made cream cheese and whey from this recipe using yogurt, so I’m not a newbie. Just a newbie with using buttermilk. Any ideas why this happened? Should I just have used it after it turned yogurt-like?

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